Vancouver’s Rental Realities: From mouldy co-op to mom’s basement

Vancouver’s Rental Reality is a week-long original series looking at housing in Vancouver from the renter’s perspective. From renters locked out of the property ladder to hellish landlords, ‘renovictions’ and cramped living quarters, we look at how renters say the city is pushing them away.

Laura MacCormac, her partner Chris Caron and their two young children had high hopes of finding a home their family could afford to rent in Metro Vancouver.

It didn’t work out that way.

The four are currently living in Laura’s mother’s basement.

Laura’s son Mikey celebrating his firs birthday with his sister Lily in the living room of the family’s co-op in 2016. One week prior they had their home inspected for mould, but say their co-op and property manager took no action. Supplied

Their situation is all too familiar for many young families living in the city.

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In April 2016, while living in a two-bedroom co-op in Port Moody, the couple noticed the smell of mould. But they didn’t realize how bad it was until the family started getting sick.

“We started asking questions and trying to get someone to do something about it,” MacCormac said.

“It just wasn’t happening, and it was getting worse and worse.”

Click below to see mould in Laura and Chris’ co-op

Mould in the corner of Laura and Chris' living room in March, 2016.
A tarped off wall in the living room of Laura and Chris' co-op.
Another tarped-off wall in Laura and Chris' co-op.
Mould on the living room window in Laura and Chris' co-op.
Laura and Chris say they eventually had to tarp the living room off from the rest of the house.

The couple reached out to Health Canada for assistance and even took their case to City Hall, Laura said.

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“We tried. We tried everything, every level of government, everything we could think of, Fraser Health, everything. And nobody would help us,” she said.

“My son was always sick. I was always sick.”

Feeling like they had no other option but to move out, the couple took MacCormac’s mother up on an offer to move the family to her basement while they looked for a new place.

Laura and Chris’ bedroom in her mother’s basement. Supplied

It was only after they left the co-op that they realized how bad the situation in their old home was.

“We had a mould inspection done and it was so bad you needed a full suit and respirator to go in there. We shouldn’t have been living there.”

Almost 20 months later, they are still living in the basement but are very grateful to MacCormac’s mother.

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Laura’s son Mikey with his grandmother. Supplied
“If we didn’t have her, God knows where we would be right now. Our family would probably be split apart because [Laura’s daughter] would have to stay with her dad and we would have to move further out of the Fraser Valley,” Caron said.

But now, they just want their own place.

After coming to terms with the fact that a three-bedroom home is not financially possible, the couple has shifted their search to something smaller.

But with demand so high, MacCormac feels their situation is not attractive to landlords.

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Chris with son Mikey. Supplied

“No one wants to rent a two-bedroom to us because there are so many other people they could rent to with less people. There’s four of us.”

Currently, in a position to save some money, the family has looked into buying a small condo. But here too they have run into yet more roadblocks, MacCormac said.

“We only qualify for a mortgage of $380,000, even though our combined income is $100,000,” she said.

‘That’s all we qualify for. And there’s really nowhere safe that I’ve seen, anywhere in the vicinity of Port Moody and Coquitlam, that we could actually move into, that we could actually afford.”

Laura with daughter Lily. She says she’d consider leaving Metro Vancouver, but doing so would mean losing shared custody of her daughter. Supplied

Fearing that MacCormac could lose custody of her daughter if they decide to move further out of town, they feel that they are stuck.

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“The worst part about it is, if we do leave town, I won’t have custody of my daughter anymore. Because her dad and I share her 50-50. And if I leave, she’s going to stay with her dad,” she said.

“So we’re waiting for something to happen. We’re hoping for some type of change or just something, that’s all we can really do.”

Lily and Mikey. Laura says she’s shocked no action was taken on the mould in their unit, especially considering the age of their kids. Supplied

When asked what they felt was wrong with Vancouver’s current housing market, MacCormac said she feels that the international economy has too much control over the local market, and that it is too easy for anyone to move to Vancouver and buy here.

They are also concerned that bringing large multinational companies such as Amazon to Vancouver is only going to make the situation worse, MacCormac said.

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“If this is actually a crisis there should be some kind of drastic, decisive measure that comes with it, right?

“I just don’t see it happening, and I don’t understand why it’s being called a ‘crisis’ if nobody can acknowledge it that way.”

The first painting Chris ever made for Laura. She says she had to throw it out because of mould. Supplied

MacCormac feels that a solution would be to freeze everything: If you’re not from Vancouver, you shouldn’t be able to move here right now.

“We need a breather,” she said. “We need to fix the situation or what’s going to happen is the people that are really doing all the work are going to leave.”

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