After four years away from the lovely Vancouver, I wondered, would we love it just as much as we had before we left?
Vancouver is a beautiful city. It’s surrounded by mountains and water and it is consistently rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world. People famously say you could ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon here. The downtown peninsula boasts a beautiful seawall that stretches around beaches, high rise condominiums, world class eateries and the majestic Stanley Park. Vancouver has density with fresh air. For families with young children, the downtown has parks, a great library and community centres just outside everyone’s doorstep.
People flock here to live and work. It’s considered a great vacation destination. In our four years living in Europe we met dozens of people that had visited Vancouver and the overall sentiment was, wow, you are so lucky to live there.
I’m just as smitten by Vancouver’s liveable-ness as I was when we left. Maybe even more so. Walkability and a mild climate are tops on my list of lifestyle wants. Check, check, Vancouver. A diverse community, easily accessibly green space? Check and check again.
But, Vancouver, in my time away you have failed in a few big departments.
One: the school situation in the Vancouver District appears to be worse than when we left. More catchments full, longer wait lists. There is still no walkable public school option for our family and we live in the one of the densest areas of the city. While schools are bursting in some catchments others are below capacity and threatened with closure. The schools haven’t responded to the change in area demographics.
This is not a new problem. The school just a few blocks from our home has had a long wait list since before my oldest son was born six years ago. There is a new school being built but it’s two years away and it’s likely to have a Kindergarten wait list as soon as it opens. There are wonderful daycares in the city but they also have incredibly long wait lists. This city is simply not meeting the needs of families for accessible education and childcare.
Two: Vancouver, you may be liveable but that’s only for people that can afford it. The real estate market here is insane. I do not use that term lightly. This is no New York or London with an economy and jobs to back up the housing prices. If anything, when I look at jobs the salaries seem to be the same as they were when I left. And those salaries hadn’t moved in a few years either. Stagnant wages and skyrocketing housing, services and goods prices could be one of the reasons Vancouverites are the unhappiest of all Canadians. If you didn’t get into this housing market 10+ years ago you are out of luck.
If we didn’t have a lot of family here I would strongly consider moving away from Vancouver.
How does minimalism fit into this rant? Well, living in smaller homes and having less stuff and living frugally is a necessity for many in Vancouver and will become a necessity for more people as the cost of living continues to increase.
I didn’t have dreams of owning a house in Vancouver but now that a house is $1 million +, it’s out of reach. It’s out of reach for most people with the median household income in Vancouver sitting at $70,000 a year. A million dollars for a house in ‘tear down’ shape on $70,000 a year just doesn’t add up.
That’s what I keep thinking about as I shop for groceries and startle at a ticket for the movies being $15. The numbers don’t make sense. How is anyone able to afford this city? The minimum wage is $10.25/hr. The liveable wage in Vancouver is calculated at $20.68/hr.
There is no creative math equation that works. Are people supposed to work 80 hours a week? I’m all for living small but is a rented studio the new four person family size home?
As for my family, we’re one of the lucky ones. We’re getting by in this city. We own property (it was the right choice to rent it out while we were away) and I’m comfortable living in a two bedroom apartment as a family of five for now. Three boys in one room will be a challenge but I know we can make it work.
Over a decade ago my then boyfriend, now husband, and I visited my cousin in London. She had three boys sharing a room not out of necessity but by choice (there was another bedroom available but they didn’t want to split up). It used to be a choice for us to live in a smaller home but with the way Vancouver has changed and continues to change, it’s become a necessity.
Has anyone lived in or is currently living an unaffordable city? How do you get by and do you feel it’s worth it?
P.S. Dusting off my frugal chops in an expensive city with so much temptation – the coffee at Small Victory is the best I have ever tasted – and working on a ‘room for three’ kid’s bedroom. More to come on the blog now that school is back in. Hurrah!