British Columbia

'It's disheartening': home rental bidding wars reach the suburbs

Erin Schulte is known for helping others. But after her landlord gave her an eviction notice, she's the one in need of help.

Phenomenon isn't unheard of in Vancouver, but renters say it's popping up in Fraser Valley as market tightens

Erin Schulte says she is saddened but not surprised after fire crews discovered the body of a homeless person in a shed fire on a vacant property at 97A avenue and 137A Street. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Erin Schulte has been helping out the homeless for years. She runs a pop-up soup kitchen in Surrey's 135A Street and last year she gave hundreds of Christmas cards to homeless people with the help of school kids and seniors.

But nine days ago, she found herself in need of help when her landlord gave her an eviction notice. 

"For a couple of hours, I cried and I was terrified, and then you put your nose to the ground and [search] Craigslist, and Kijiji," she said. 

Her search was futile. 

What she discovered was that bidding wars — which aren't unheard of in Vancouver — were now happening in North Delta and Surrey. She described the units she's looked at as "disgusting and unkept."

"You go to an open house and there are 30 to 40 people there ... there are people around the kitchen table, you know, the rent is $2,100 and this guy is going, 'I'll give you $2,250, this [other] guy is like I'll give $2,300.' And you're just standing there like, but all I can afford is the $2,100," she said.

Unaffordable rents

A recent city staff report noted the proportion of people living in rental housing in Surrey is rising, creating more demand in a tight rental market.

As a result, the report said, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who are paying rents that are "considered unaffordable for their income."

It also said the proportion of renter households living in overcrowded conditions is higher than elsewhere in the region.

Schulte, who works two jobs and lived in her last place for eight years, is in the market for a ground floor unit to house herself, her daughter and three grandsons — one of whom has autism.

"I just never thought it would be such a hard thing to find a home," she said, "it's disheartening."

She is sharing her story to sound the alarm over the lack of affordable housing in the Fraser Valley. 

She worries what families on a fixed-income or seniors will do if they find themselves in her situation. 

As for her, it turns out doing good deeds pays off. 

A complete stranger saw her Facebook post about needing housing and has connected her to a landlord, who is willing to rent the place to her. 

Schulte says she plans to see the unit later Wednesday. 

If you are interested in housing affordability, check out CBC's new podcast, SOLD! Host Stephen Quinn explores how foreign investment in real estate divides community, class and culture. Find it at CBC Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.