OPINION: With so many empty rooms in Vancouver, why isn’t there more home sharing?

Last week I received a phone call from Stephanie, a Montreal flight attendant for Air Canada Express who’s relocating to Vancouver in March. She has been searching on Craigslist for accommodations close to the Canada Line so she can easily get to the airport. However, like many Vancouverites, she has found home-hunting a very challenging and distressing experience.

One of the most disturbing things is the number of scammers and swindlers out there attempting to trap unsuspecting people desperately seeking rental accommodations. This was addressed in a Courier story last fall by John Kurucz and numerous other online articles.

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A Vancity blogpost reported that an estimated 51 per cent of renters in Vancouver and Victoria have encountered a scam.

Given the high price of rental housing in Vancouver, especially compared to Montreal, Stephanie contacted me because she was hoping to find an affordable room in a house owned by another person.

During her internet searches, she came across a Courier column I wrote about the number of empty bedrooms in Vancouver, and benefits of home-sharing, both for those seeking housing and those owning homes with empty rooms.

According to Paul Smetanin of the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA), the number of spare bedrooms in Vancouver is equivalent to 15 years of construction at the current rate of building.

The challenge is to match those owning empty bedrooms or basement suites, and willing to share, with those seeking affordable accommodation.

Think of it as a VRBO or Airbnb but offering more permanent housing.

While organizations and private companies have sprung up in the United States to meet this demand, including Boston’s Nesterly, founded by a young lady from Cortes Island, only limited options are available in Vancouver.

Last August, CBC’s Early Edition broadcast a five-part radio series produced by Amanda Poole titled Roomies, which looked at various aspects of home sharing, including multi-generational sharing. It examined both the economic and emotional benefits that can arise, along with the challenges.

The series featured on-the-ground examples of shared living, as well as one matchmaker service called Happipad. It was started in the Okanagan in 2017 by a UBC student looking to match those with empty bedrooms and student renters, and describes itself as a cross between Airbnb and a dating site.

Happipad now serves all of B.C. through its home-sharing web app.  It currently has more than 30 live listings in Vancouver, and more are popping up every week.

Happipad connects anyone with a spare room with those looking for affordable accommodation options. It is not limited to intergenerational connections between seniors and students, although these connections do happen.

Happipad's newest initiative is #ConnectAMillion, by which it hopes to connect a million seniors with compatible housemates by 2025 to tackle social isolation. 

The CBC series included examples of relationships that worked, and some that did not work, and explored the legal considerations of entering what is essentially a landlord-tenant relationship.

The series concluded with an interview with a community psychology consultant who has enjoyed intergenerational home sharing relationships for over 30 years. He pointed out that while Vancouver’s zoning bylaws do not prevent home sharing, they limit the number of unrelated people who can legally share a dwelling.

Home sharing is not a new idea. In the 1980s, former alderperson Marguerite Ford created HomeSharers that successfully matched seniors until its CMHC funding dried up. Sadly, it did not continue.

On the North Shore, Joy Hayden of Hollyburn Family Services has been working on a seniors' home sharing registry to match senior homeowners with seniors and others seeking accommodation.

Over the phone, Stephanie sounded like a bright, intelligent young lady. I referred her to Happipad but also offered to try and find her a suitable place to live.

If any Courier reader has a home near the Canada Line, and would consider renting to a flight attendant moving to our city, please write to me and I will put you in touch with each other.

I would also like to hear about other home sharing experiences, since given the number of empty bedrooms and people seeking accommodations, home sharing seems like a practical idea whose time should come.






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