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Priced out of Paradise: Red-hot real estate market leads to rental crisis in Chilliwack

Rachel Plaza thought she had a long-term rental in place until a sold sign appeared on her lawn one day. - Greg Laychak
Rachel Plaza thought she had a long-term rental in place until a sold sign appeared on her lawn one day.
— image credit: Greg Laychak
The first in a two-part series on the rental crisis facing Chilliwack residents as a result of the Lower Mainland’s red-hot real estate market. See part two here: Rental crisis in Chilliwack: Landlords also feeling the pinch

Rachel Plaza is a model, an actress, she can sing, she’s well-known in the Chilliwack theatre scene, she works hard at her job, and she has single-handedly raised three children.

What she can’t do is find a place to live in this city, despite a desperate need and weeks of trying.

Plaza is among a growing wave of residents caught up in a rental crisis as a result of the demand and supply issues stemming from the skyrocketing real estate situation in Chilliwack and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

“It’s humiliating,” Plaza said of the process she is constantly going through where 20, 30, and upwards of 100 people are viewing homes for rent.

“What’s going on? Who are these people?” she asks.

“I found one place that was $1,900 [a month], and in two days it was up to $2,300 because they said they were getting inundated with phone calls.”

Plaza currently lives with her two teenaged daughters and her 12-year-old son in a four-bedroom, four-bathroom house in Sardis. Up until recently her landlord told her she was a great tenant and wanted her to stay.

Then two months of record-breaking real estate sales and rising home prices hit, not just Chilliwack, but every real estate board from here to Vancouver.

And just like that, before she even knew the house was for sale, there was a “sold” sign on the front lawn, and she was given two months to leave.

“My house sold in one day, site unseen, nobody came over.”

 

A growing trend

There were 530 residential homes that traded hands locally in April 2016 worth $216.7 million, a 132 per cent increase over the dollar volume of sales for the same month in 2015.

That made it the single largest sales month for the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board.

The second biggest month ever? One month prior with 494 sales worth $190 million.

It doesn’t take an economics professor to see what this leads to: increased demand coupled with tight supply as fewer homes are being listed means higher prices. And then, landlords not in it for the long haul start to sell while the getting is good.

Plaza’s story of a landlord/owner selling a rental property out from under her is far from isolated. A simple request for stories on a Facebook page dedicated to finding rentals in Chilliwack elicited a tsunami of responses from the frustrated to the scared to the depressed.

One renter Bob Boles, his wife and their kids aged four and five lived in a rented unit in Chilliwack for the last four years. They just received a 60-day notice to move out because the home is for sale.

“Landlords and sellers are all trying to cash in on this market and it is going to put a lot of people out on the street with no place to go and no help,” Boles told the Times.

“I am so stressed out on not knowing what we are going to do if we do not find anything.”

Then there is Georgina Monteith who is the mother of four adult children who all live together and need a place. After living for years with a bad carpet, her landlord said it was to be replaced. Good news she thought, until she realized it was because the residence was for sale.

Now Monteith, on a fixed income, faces the same battle Plaza and Boles do: big competition for a handful of homes and ever high rents.

“I am on a CPP disability pension and have a autistic son,” Monteith said. “Even with the help of my working boys I cannot afford what most are asking for rent, and the prospect of being homeless is very real.”

 

Mounting pressure

Realtor and property manager Michael Henshall is on the front lines of what he calls a “rental crisis” in Chilliwack.

When Henshall talked to the Times on Tuesday, he was just in the process of getting papers signed for a rental of a house on Promontory. At least someone found a place to live.

The price: $3,300 a month.

“And a number of people wanted it for that,” Henshall said. “There is an extreme tightening of availability for homes for rent and a lot of turnover.”

There are those coming to Chilliwack looking to rent, thereby increasing competition, but realtors are also seeing an influx of buyers from more expensive locales to the west pushing renters such as Plaza and Monteith out.

Adding to the pressure, if in a small way, Henshall said at Homelife they are getting inquiries from displaced people from Fort McMurray, Alta., recently ravaged by wildfires.

Many struggling to find a place complain that greed is taking over and, because of demand, landlords are jacking up rents because they can get away with it.

“I know some need to have higher rent to match their mortgage but I’m talking about overseas landowners who had blatantly changed it on an official listing over night simply to get more money,” Plaza said.

As for Plaza, if she can’t find something soon, her family’s next stop is living in a trailer in a friend’s driveway.

“The stress is starting to take its toll as sleepless nights are the norm,” she says.

“This is the reality of what it’s all come down to when you want to stay in one’s own beloved town.”

• See part two of this series here: Rental crisis in Chilliwack: Landlords also feeling the pinch

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