Looking for a light in the window

Many CFL rookies play for as little as $42,000 a year. While that minimum may sound all right, the athlete is often here from a faraway home where another residence has to be maintained, money needs to be sent back, and something of a future built.

Adjusting to a new city and team aren't the only challenges facing young CFLers

Furnished apartment wanted. Itinerant worker in mid-20s who travels often seeks bachelor, one-, or two-bedroom apartment or basement of house for short-term rental of from one-week to six months. Could be unemployed at a moment's notice. Will bring up to three roommates with me, also itinerant workers facing possible job loss. Money short. Low rent needed. Close to public transit would be helpful .…

You may laugh at that ad, but it's a scenario faced by many young players in the Canadian Football League.

Ask Jason Clermont, a Regina realtor and local native who, when not working with his business partner Jim Christie at selling homes under the Royal LePage banner, catches passes for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

As both a veteran player (home again after seven successful seasons and a Grey Cup ring with the B.C. Lions) and an experienced real estate man, Clermont long ago learned how to provide for himself and his family when it comes to living arrangements.

But he also sees on a daily basis how hard it can be for young teammates trying to live decently in a strange city where the vacancy rate is effectively zero.

"The thing is, a lot of guys don't live decently," he says, over the phone after practice. "They'll come in and get a two-bedroom basement suite in a rougher neighbourhood and just borrow furniture or whatever and just stick three or four guys in there.

"[They] try and get by, and just the number of guys they throw in it reduces their share of the rent and utilities and whatsuch."

Many CFL rookies play for as little as $42,000 a year. While that minimum may sound all right, the athlete is often here from a faraway home where another residence has to be maintained, money needs to be sent back, and something of a future built.

Practice-roster players have it even tougher — they make $500 a week and usually get a couple of hundred more for living expenses. Clermont says on an hourly basis, that's just slightly more than what his 15-year-old daughter makes at a local store working part-time.

What about a dorm?

For Canadian players who get through that rookie CFL season and are lucky enough to sign a longer-term contract with a bonus, there are options that can lead to home ownership and a chance to invest in their future, says Saskatchewan receiver Jason Clermont, who while he was with B.C. bought one condo, sold it, then invested in another.

Chris Getzlaf (brother of NHLer Ryan, and a second-year Riders' pass catcher), for example, bought a house and moved a couple of teammates in to share costs and help pay down the mortgage.

Young Americans, however, tend not to want to stay here long-term (many see the league as a stepping stone to the NFL), so investing in a property is not nearly as strong an option.

So Clermont, who doubles as a Regina realtor, has an idea for CFL clubs: buy their own small apartment building.

"[That] might not be a horrible idea for a team, to own a 24-[unit] suite of apartments," says Clermont, who also doubles as a local real estate agent.

You could set it up like a university dorm system, say, with players coming in and out of furnished rooms.

"If that's the case, if the league wants to do that, they can call me and my partner to set that up for them," he laughs.

The Regina number is 581-8982.

Rider fans might recognize that set of numbers, by the way. That's 5 for former QB Kent Austin, 81 for receiver Ray Elgaard, 89 for the Grey Cup win that year and 82 for, well, Jason Clermont.

Demonte' Bolden, a former star lineman at the University of Tennessee, earned a job with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this season and immediately had to find a roof to live under.

"I went to [a] place, and the girl was like, 'we can't do a six-month lease,' or we can't take on a tenant like you because you're not here for a whole year," said Bolden, who added finding a home turned out to be a lot harder than he expected.

The process was made tougher by knowing little about the city and nothing about where the good neighbourhoods are.

Finally, on the advice of a couple of teammates, he saw a light in the window. Or in this case, a flag.

"[This] building I went to had a Ticats' flag on it," Bolden laughs. "So [the landlord] already knew the day we were leaving and the day we were coming in, and it was a lot easier."

Even if Bolden gets traded and has to go, there's a deal for just 30 days' vacancy notice.

There's more than just finding a place, however, there's also eating properly and saving enough money to send home.

"Guys are cognizant of the fact that in life it's never what you make, it's what you keep," Clermont says.

"And if you're here [in Regina] and you are staying at the Hotel Sask every night, and you're eating at the Diplomat or wherever, spending all of your money on your living [expenses], when you come back home and your family says 'You sacrificed the time away from us for six months, what do we have to show for it?' well, that's really tough.

"If you really don't have anything, then it's really not worth your time anyway."

In Regina now, the power lies with the landlords who, with the zero vacancy market, can hold out for tenants willing to sign longer-term leases and who might not disappear next week.

Hopeless? Not as long as there are Rider fans.

"Saskatchewan is full of a lot of great people … who will lend their hand," Clermont says. "They understand that … the mandate of our team is to fill our locker-room with quality guys.

"A lot of people trust that and extend their hand to the players, and [they trust] that they are quality guys and they will be forthright with the landlords [who will] extend an opportunity to rent on a short term basis."

One former long-time Rider rented at the same home for years, Clermont says.

Of course, if you're a new member of the green and white and need some real-estate ideas, there's always someplace to go. That realtor is just a couple of dressing-room stalls down.