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Reluctant Dirtbags Tell Us the Strange and Awful Ways They've Saved on Rent

We talked to people who would do almost anything to keep $250 in their pocket.
Illustration by Adam Waito

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

When you're young and broke, society gives unwritten permission to live like a dirtbag for a while. You can sleep on a buddy's couch, stay a few extra years in mom and dad's basement, spend a couple more months living with your ex than you should have, or maybe even briefly engage in the time-honored tradition of "banging for board" (ick).

But in Vancouver's fucked up rental market, where the vacancy rate sits below one percent (a healthy market should hover around three or four), those dirtbag years can extend well into your twenties, or even your thirties. As the market heats up, it's not just students and musicians sleeping in hallways and punk houses, but professional-types and working families. From raining cockroaches to hooking up in a bed still shared with an ex, VICE asked Vancouverites about the strangest living situations they've endured just to make rent.



I had to live with my ex for five months while we untangled our lives. We slept in the same bed and I started seeing someone else while we still lived together.

The vibe was like "this is weird, but we were together for over a decade and I don't love you, but I don't hate you, I like hanging out as friends, and I want you to not have to secretly live in someone's shed so I'll live here and split bills until you've got something lined up." I spent months searching for a roommate, with hopes of moving into a two bedroom, because the current place I'm in, though divey, is not very manageable on my income. But my roommate search kept coming up empty. And I'm just too old and I have possessions and I just can't handle a nomadic existence in an East Vancouver punk house. At 33, I'm just not into the idea of house meetings or sharing denim vests.

I was upfront with my ex that I needed to get HELLA LAID even though we still lived together. We had an arrangement where we'd each have the place to ourselves a certain amount of time on a certain day which, uh, helped me ride the Bonetown Express. The person I'm seeing had also recently gone through a split and was in the process of moving out so there was a few weeks where neither of us had our own place but it was brief. I then spent time at their place or we went out.

My ex knew he wanted to move (my current place is is a fairly big one-bedroom, but it has a serious mold problem and an "animal-loving" landlord who let raccoons nest in the roof for several years), but he makes a lot more than me and knew I'd need more time to save for moving/rent/deposits. In the end I wound up staying. —Adele



My boyfriend and I spent a few weeks sleeping on a mattress in a hallway. We were living in this microsuite down by the railroad tracks—250 square feet and a shared bathroom. It was one of those old rooming houses that had been turned into "cheap" urban living for the artsy and hipster set. We'd crammed two of us in there, so it was pretty cramped, and there were mice, and a hundred million cockroaches, but I was in school, it was cheap, and the view was amazing.

There was a lot of railyard noise, so you'd often be woken up from a dead sleep by random loud crashes in the middle of the night. It was annoying at first, but you got used to it pretty quick. Usually it wasn't a big deal. But for whatever reason, on this one particular night, something happened—the frequency of these trains colliding matched the frequency of the building or whatever—and a whole piece of the ceiling came loose. There was this loud CRACK, and we woke up to being showered with a Rain. Of. Cockroaches. And we looked up, and this piece of plaster was just barely attached to the roof. We rolled off of the mattress, thinking the whole thing was coming down. The good news was, it never did. The bad news was, we spent the rest of the night sleeping in the "kitchen" (about 100 square feet and a hot plate), contemplating whether or not to burn every stitch of our bedding.

Then, while they were fixing the suite, we had to drag our mattress out into the hallway. It was noisy, and the lights stayed on all the time. You know, like they do in solitary confinement. And let me remind you that all the suites on that floor shared a bathroom, so anytime anyone else on our floor needed to use the facilities, they had to crawl over us to get there.


The things we'll do for $250 a month. —Nicole

Illustration by Adam Waito


I shared a bed with my best friend for a year in a tiny apartment. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend, and she was in school, and she had nowhere to live, and I was like: "Do you want to come stay with me for awhile?" This was a bachelor—we're talking 550 square feet, one room—but it actually worked out. I mean, we'd been friends since we were 13. And of course, we shared a bed.

We had rules—we were both single at the time—and we went out a lot. If one of us was coming home with someone, we'd just send a text to each other. We both had friends who lived in the building, so we could just get in touch with them and be like: 'Hey, can I crash with you tonight?' It didn't happen that often, as much as we'd like to think it did. But we needed to have some kind of plan.

We were both really happy living together. We were saving money, she was getting back on her feet. So we did it for a few months. And then another few months. She was in school, and I was busy, and I'd go out and do a lot of yoga. So we actually still had a lot of time to ourselves. After a year, we thought "Okay, I guess we'd better be grown-ups," and she moved.

It was kind of weird at first, I guess, but we never really had any issues. I cleaned a lot more than she did, but she was good at doing the dishes. She has a good, creative side to her, and she'd move something, and I'd come home and go: "Oh! Cool! I never thought to put that there!" It was more weird when we told people. They'd be like: 'What? You share a bachelor?' And we'd have to remember, "Oh, right. I guess this is sort of weird, isn't it?" —Heidi



For eight months me, my wife, and our son lived in a mansion with ten other adults. There were eight bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, a living room, dining room, and a ballroom. My wife and I had the master suite—1,400 square feet with its own bathroom. The bathroom alone was 300 square feet. Our three-year-old son had his own bedroom—which was actually the powder room attached to the bathroom. At the time, we were thinking: "OK, nuclear family living sucks."

It was this eclectic mix of people: there was a plumber, a few young professionals, an actor/bus driver. A 22-year-old web developer. A 20-year-old yoga teacher. A 30-year-old "emotional coach"—which is like being a life coach, except with no training whatsoever. I was freelancing and teaching at UBC. We were the only ones with a kid. And there were really different visions for how to live in that space. Some people wanted a house. Others wanted a community events space. Some of them were hosting these cacao ceremonies—just this weird, hippie, Gaia, natural drug thing where they'd get together and eat enough chocolate to get really fucking high, if you can imagine that. They were like these big cuddle parties, and oftentimes people would go off somewhere and have sex afterward.

This other couple liked to organize swinger meet-and-greets. In the living room. They would set up Japanese screens to partition off the room, so the swingers didn't have to be scrutinized by the rest of the house. The women were all in six-inch heels. And my wife and I would sit at the top of the stairs and peek over the dividers until they caught us. And then we'd escape back upstairs. And so many times, these parties would be going on, and we couldn't sleep, and our kid couldn't sleep, and we'd ask them to quiet down, and they wouldn't quiet down, and then we'd have a house meeting about that, and we'd tell them "OK, that didn't work, we're kind of pissed off," and they'd be like, "Oh, don't be so negative."

The trouble is, living with that many people, you have to set up some systems and agreements to make it possible. You need to figure out who's going to clean the kitchen, and ways to keep people from leaving their shit everywhere. So we were having house meetings all the time. It was a shit-ton of work doing all the talking. We were saving money, but we were investing so much time. —Sam