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

Many millennials are now young parents and they're facing significant economic challenges as they raise the next generation — and one of the biggest obstacles is finding affordable housing.

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

Shannon Grochowski lives in Langley with her four kids, David, 3, Elizabeth, 5, and Abby, 7. Their baby girl, Margaret, was born on Mar 20th and they're starting to feel the pinch on space as their family grows. (Shannon Grochowski)

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

They currently rent an older brick home in Langley about an hour from the heart of Vancouver which works for them now, 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.

Grochowski's daughter Abby, 7, holds their newest family member Margaret, while Elizabeth, 5, looks on. (Shannon Grochowski)

"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.

Shannon Grochowski lives in Langley with her four kids, David, 3, Elizabeth, 5, and Abby, 7. Their baby girl, Margaret, was born on Mar 20th and they're starting to feel the pinch on space as their family grows. (Shannon Grochowski)

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

For the typical 25-34 year old parent, that anxiety is all to common 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.

Generations raising young kids are squeezed for time at home according to Generation Squeeze, who found the disparity between earnings and the price of a home is worst in BC than in any other province. (Generation Squeeze)

"It used to take 5 years to save a 20 per cent 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.

Governments spend less than $12k on benefits and services per Canadian under 45, compared to more than $33k for every retiree, according to a study conducted by Generation Squeeze. (Generation Squeeze)

"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

In the heart of Mount Pleasant Jessie van Rijn, 35, and her husband, Stephen Greenfield, 34, are sitting on the floor of their one bedroom apartment, playing with 11-month old baby Edgar and their schnauzer, Gotham. A bookcase just barely fits behind the couch and their small dining table has a box with toys for the baby and the dog tucked beside it.

Steven Greenfield and Jessie van Rijn live in Mount Pleasant with their dog, Gotham, and son Edgar. They're on the hunt for a bigger space but fear they might have to leave their community to move back to Alberta where housing is more affordable. (Michelle Eliot/CBC)

They love their neighbourhood, live across from a community centre and are in an easy spot to get to their jobs. Steven is an actor and theatrical music director, and Jessie is the managing producer at Electric Company Theatre. 

The couple have dreams of having another child, but 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."

Edgar is just starting to crawl and pull himself up on furniture and his mother, Jessie van Rijn says their space "feels like it's going to feel very small very quick." (Michelle Eliot/CBC)

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 another temporary nest.

"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.

The Grochowski family lives in Langley and have moved four times in the past six years as their family has grown, causing them to look for spaces to accommodate their needs. (Shannon Grochowski)

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