COLUMN: Finding a home of our own comes at a cost

Metro Vancouver's real estate climate forcing born and bred residents to consider leaving town.

PAN reporter Melissa Smalley with her grandfather

PAN reporter Melissa Smalley with her grandfather

When it comes to proud, longtime Vancouverites, you couldn’t get much more authentic than my grandfather.

Born in the Prairies, he moved to East Vancouver with his family when he was just a toddler. He spent his childhood on a farm near what is now Grandview Highway and Rupert Street – the site of several big-box stores and no shortage of traffic.

When he and my grandmother started a family in the late 1940s, they bought a small two-bedroom house near Joyce and Kingsway – mere blocks from where he grew up – and there he stayed until he passed away three years ago.

I was lucky enough to live in that house for a few years myself, while I attended nearby Langara College. It was during that time that my grandfather would regale me with tales of Vancouver past – tobogganing down what is now Boundary Road after a snowfall, ice skating on the frozen pond in Central Park and taking the train into White Rock for vacation in the summer.

As former director of operations at Vancouver International Airport, he had no shortage of great stories – my favourite of which is his recollection of then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau arriving with his three little boys in tow, all of whom my grandpa described as “hyper little brats.”

I’ve always felt a strong connection to Vancouver, and the various parts of the Lower Mainland in which I’ve lived over the years.

Which is why it breaks my heart that I might have to leave.

With a husband and two young children, the current real-estate climate in Metro Vancouver is diminishing our hope of ever owning a home here.

Perhaps if we’d had the foresight – and maturity – to break into the housing market in our early 20s (long before we met one another), things would be different now.

But as it stands, short of a lottery win or mysterious inheritance from a distant relative, we are out of luck.

We currently rent an older, three-bedroom house. It’s not the nicest house, but it suits our needs, and most importantly has a nice big yard – a must, in my opinion, when children are part of the equation.

We’ve been saving steadily for the past several years – as much as possible while also paying astronomical daycare fees each month – and finally have enough for a modest downpayment.

Or so we thought.

I’ve done the research and crunched the numbers – the most we could afford in the Lower Mainland is a two-bedroom condo. If we extended our search to further suburbs – Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge – we could likely afford a three-bedroom townhouse, maybe even one with a teeny patch of lawn in the back.

In order for us to afford a single-family home, we would have to uproot to Chilliwack or Mission, and even then, we’d be buying a “fixer-upper” – and likely engaging in bidding wars with other keen would-be buyers.

Are we being overly choosy? Do we have unrealistic expectations?

Maybe, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a young, hard-working family to be able to buy a house in the town their parents and grandparents grew up in.

So we are faced with three options: keep renting, buy something in town we don’t really want or hightail it out of here for greener – and cheaper – pastures.

While these are all far-from-perfect scenarios, the latter is seeming ever-more reasonable, though we’d be leaving behind two lifetimes’ worth of friends and family members.

I often wonder if my grandfather knew what might come of his beloved city, all those years ago when he bought his family home for $7,500.

I also worry about what is yet to come – if things are this bad now, how will our children and grandchildren ever get ahead if we stay?

Sadly, the way things are going, there may be a chance we won’t be here to find out.

Melissa Smalley is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.