'What if we just kept renting?' How I sold myself on a new Canadian dream
What can be gained when you give up on owning a home?
Who among us is living like a person ahead of their time? And what might Canada need to do to catch up with them? Future Now is a series featuring individuals who are living their version of the Canadian future… today.
While I might have aspired toward living in a mansion when I grew up, owning a house always seemed like the default.
Like many children, my introduction to prophecy would come via a homemade paper fortune-teller with the acronym MASH written at the top. At the top, significantly, implying that my future abode (options were Mansion, Apartment, Shack and House) was more important than who I'd marry, how many children I'd have and the make and model of my future car.
And while the fortune-teller is possibly less than scientific — I don't have a car and actually married outside my Grade Three community — its design reveals a lot about the centrality of housing in our lives.
'What if we just keep renting?'
Growing up in southern Ontario, I'd only lived in houses, houses surrounded by other houses, along with green lawns and two-car garages. I had as much desire to live in a shack as you'd expect, and what little I knew about apartment dwelling I'd garnered from watching Sesame Street and, later, 227.
You'd think the decision not to buy a house would have been obvious, but in my social circles, it seemed revolutionary.- Kerry Clare
So it still seems remarkable that my family has ended up in a rental unit, even though we've been living here for the last nine years. Our home is the top two floors of an old house in downtown Toronto, the place where we landed after a conversation my husband and I had in 2008 when it dawned on us that home-buying wasn't inevitable.
Becoming homeowners had seemed predestined — and not just because the fortune-teller said so. I still remember posing the question, "What if we just kept renting?" Scarcely believing such a reality was possible as the words passed by my lips.
The cult of real estate in Canada is so pervasive that I'd never before questioned whether buying a house would be our next step in adulthood. Even though it would clear out our savings; even though it would mean moving far away from our downtown jobs; even though the house we wanted wouldn't be the house we could afford.
Buying a house would mean waiting a few more years to have kids and our career tracks would suddenly be fixed ones. With all these factors, you'd think the decision not to buy a house would have been obvious, but in our circles, it seemed revolutionary.
And it really was a revolution, because once we committed to renting, everything changed.
'The kind of life we want to live'
We traded our one-bedroom apartment for a two-bedroom (with laundry!), had our first child within a year, I quit my stable job to become a freelance writer, my husband left the financial industry (just in time…) to work in the non-profit sector, we had another baby, I published a book, and then I published another.
Our apartment seems smaller than it did when there were just two of us, but it's big enough. When the roof leaks or the furnace breaks, we're not faced with the huge repair bills. My husband walks to work, I walk our children to school, and we're all home in time to eat dinner together.
We are lucky to have a good landlord and that our rent has remained affordable, so we're able to take holidays and put aside savings for our children's education and for our retirement, even though I don't work full-time. For a while we were still saving for a house, but the plan lost its appeal as Toronto house prices continued to rise and we became comfortable owning our identity as renters.
Renting, for us, has been about neither lack of choice nor compromise, but instead about living the kind of life we want to live. Renting has given us flexibility and financial freedom. And while there are moments when I question if we're fooling ourselves, if we missed out by failing to get in on the real estate market while it was still remotely possible, I consider the derelict bungalows in our city selling for over a million dollars and wonder who's been fooled after all.
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