Millennials 2.0: Young families feel the squeeze in Vancouver's housing market

There are many stereotypes around the millennial generation, often having to do with selfies — and artisanal everything.

But the reality is many in this generation are now young parents who face significant economic challenges as they raise the next generation — and one of the biggest obstacles is finding affordable housing.

Shannon Grochowski and her family of five has struggled for years to find a place that fits their constantly changing needs.

The Grochowski family currently rents an older brick home in Langley that works, but it's been a struggle to get there.

"I think this is about our fourth home in the past six years just because our family grew," said Grochowski, who gave birth to their newest addition, Margaret, on Mar. 20.

"We would be in a basement suite and that would be too small for us, so then we'd have to upgrade, and then that would be too small for us. We're just kind of sick of moving."

While their house right now has a good amount of space for the kids to play in, she expects the owners to sell it eventually and they want a place her family can call their own.

But she says saving up for a home has been a case of moving one step forward — and two steps back. Unexpected bills are a big set-back.

"You feel like you're getting ahead and then something major happens. Recently, our transmission just went on our van, so we had to take all our resources that we had set aside for other things.

That repair cost the family $3,000.

"I think it's such a challenge for us because pricing has gone up so crazily. I honestly don't know if we can do it."

Housing strategy misses mark

That anxiety is all too common for young parents according to UBC public policy professor Paul Kershaw, who's also the founder of the campaign, Generation Squeeze. A recent report from the group found the disparity between earnings and the price of a home is worse in B.C. than any other province.

"It used to take 5 years to save a 20% down payment on an average home in this country."

"In British Columbia today, it takes over 19 years, just think about that. Despite putting in more effort... they're losing ground anyhow."

While Kershaw applauds the federal budget for introducing a national housing strategy, he says the annual one billion dollars earmarked for housing doesn't adequately recognize how much younger generations are affected by the housing squeeze.

"We have an economy that's growing in ways that ultimately puts housing prices out of reach for the younger demographic," he said.

"It's fundamentally different to raise a family in a one bedroom condo where you send your kid to play in a balcony, than it is to have slightly more space where you can say, yeah, go play in the backyard."

Outgrowing apartments

Jessie van Rijn and her husband, Stephen, are crouched on the floor of their condo's living room, playing with 11-month old baby Edgar and their schnauzer, Gotham. Squeezed behind the couch is a bookcase. In one corner of the room, a small dining table and next to it, a box with toys for the baby and the dog.

They love living in Mount Pleasant, across from a community centre.

The couple are from Alberta and work in the arts here in Vancouver, but as much as they love their full lives here, the idea of finding a space to grow their family is anxiety-inducing.

"It feels like it's going to feel very small very quick."

They've scrolled through real estate listings, only to feel like nothing is within reach, so Jessie is considering packing up and leaving the city to return to Alberta.

"Being able to look at real estate there comparatively has been disheartening. For what we can afford, we could get a three-to-four bedroom house. Here, we can't even get a one-bedroom. If push comes to shove, we would go."

Financial stress affecting kids

Kershaw points to studies from the provincial government that show one in three children in B.C. starts kindergarten lacking in language skills and social and emotional development.

He attributes this to the financial stress young families face to stay in the city.

"It absolutely requires younger Canadians to adapt, they're doing all the adapting right now. They're willing to live smaller. They're not needing homes with yards. These are all major adaptations. What we need is the world of politics to meet them partway."

Kershaw says it requires a fundamental shift in policy throughout government.

As van Rijn considers leaving Vancouver, in Langley, Grochowski is coming to the realization she may have to settle for a townhouse.

"And the next place we move to might not be our dream home, it might just be a home that we can afford for that time," Grochowski says.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast

To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Millennials 2.0: young families feeling the squeeze in Vancouver's housing market

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