As some of you may know the real estate market in Vancouver has lost its proverbial mind. There are people selling shacks I would have felt sorry for as a kid for 3 million. It’s hard on those of us who grew up here and ran around barefoot in dusty lanes in Point Grey wearing our brothers’ hand-me-downs and riding used bikes. It was just a regular town that happened to have a stellar view of the mountains and ocean. Then everything changed. I mean everything. The very fabric of our culture is fading — fast. I love my hometown but I don’t like what’s happening. And I’m not in a great situation financially when it comes to purchasing a home for four to seven million. So, I am looking to rent something. Now, ten years ago, no problem, you could find something. But now with rental rates soaring and vacancy rates among the lowest in the world, it’s a problem.
I would like to stay close to work but here’s the thing in Vancouver: you can’t stay close to work (for me that’s UBC), have laundry, and a dishwasher for under 2 grand. And that’s a one bedroom I’m talking about folks.
So I saw an ad for an adorable ‘vintage’ (that’s what they call old and in need of repair) apartment in Kits. I have a soft spot for the area, it’s close to work but of course, no in-suite washer and dryer or dishwasher. Cause it’s old, er vintage. I went to the showing and it was a little embarrassing. People were throwing themselves at the landlord, shouting over one another in increasingly desperate tones: I’m a teacher at a school nearby! I’m an electrician! I’m a nurse!
So, this was the reality: a group of hard-working adult Canadians turning into the cast of Lord of the Flies in no short order. What would set us apart? Well, the owner wanted us to write an essay on why we should get the apartment. Yes folks, an essay. Luckily, I like a writing challenge so on my lunch hour I penned a little piece and sent it off to him. Here is it is:
My Story or Why I Should Live Here by Margaret Doyle
I was named after Margaret Mahoney. She was my mother’s best friend and worked as a professional Catholic Charities secretary. She lived in the penthouse suite of a three-story walk-up on 3rd and Balsam in the heart of Kitsilano. Since my home was bedlam (I grew up the ‘baby’ in a family of 13), I would sometimes get to escape and have a sleepover at Margaret’s apartment.
My favourite thing to do was sit on her patio surrounded by her lush, rooftop garden.
The apartment took advantage of the hill, just blocks up from Kits Beach, so the view embraced all that the 1970s Vancouver skyline could offer — blue mountains, the twinkling lights of ships in English Bay, the spattering of high-rise buildings downtown, and the oiled and tanned bodies on the bustling beach below.
I remember one night in particular. It was mid-July and I wore a muumuu my mom had given me from her trip to Hawaii. When Margaret picked me up in her red Barracuda she announced she too would change into her Hawaiian muumuu when we got to her place.
As soon we walked through the door, I hurried out onto her large rooftop deck. I had never seen a view from this height. It was heady and I cautiously looked over the railing to the street below.
Margaret changed, then mixed a few drinks and brought them out. I didn’t know what it was that I drank, likely some fancy Shirley Temple ‘mocktail’, but when it touched my taste buds I sat down and got quiet. Sipping, looking everywhere, my whole body alert, inhaling her flowers, listening to all the foreign sounds of an apartment.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” she said, in a way that I knew I didn’t need to answer. I felt the sun on my shoulders and just stared out at her colourful potted garden, noticing the way the planters lined up, like behaved little deities, waiting for Margaret to faithfully water them at dusk.
We ate outside on her little glass table, with heavy silver cutlery that I used to cut doll-like portions of food. With a mischievous look on her face Margaret told me we would eat dessert…on the couch. Then she gave me what looked like a small towel to put over my legs and placed an Indigo blue bowl full of white ice cream and summer berries on my lap. I glanced over at the gleaming white couch with uncertainty.
I was in heaven and I’ve been trying to get back there ever since.
You will be reading this and think I am being sentimental and you would be right. I am a third generation Vancouverite. My grandfather was J.J. Doyle and with his sons he built the first Burrard Hotel and many other buildings in Vancouver. My father helped build MOA and the cardiac wing of St. Paul’s Hospital among other Vancouver landmarks.
I love my city but I am seeing a lot change that is distressing to me; there are a dozens — hundreds — of heritage homes and apartments being torn down in haste. It’s important to me to move into a character building with long-term tenants who care about where they live and the people they live with. I don’t need a fancy washer and dryer — I’d rather have real wood floors and be in a neighbourhood I love with neighbours I’d check in on if I noticed they hadn’t emerged from their apartment for a few days.
I am a writer so (and this may seem sad to you) I spend a lot of time alone, well, writing! I’m the digital storyteller for UBC (you can see my latest stories at the top of the homepage at ubc.ca) and am doing my MFA in Creative Writing part-time there as well. In other words, I’m busy concentrating and so am very quiet most of the time.
I know you’ll have a lot of people who want to live in your apartment, but I can guarantee there will be few who will care for it as much as I will.
I will let you know if I get it…