Opinion: 20-plus people in a Burnaby flophouse is just wrong

Chris Campbell

A few years ago, I did the online dating thing – it was terrifying – and met a Burnaby woman stuck living in terrible conditions.

She lived in the Highgate area and rented space in an old detached house that had been chopped up into multiple living areas. I won’t call what she rented a “room” because it was just a space bordered by thick drapes.

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It was deplorable, but it was also relatively cheap and she needed to save money to send home to her family. She didn’t have any better options.

That’s how sad Burnaby has become. We’re the third-most expensive rental market in Canada and that leaves people feeling desperate. When people are desperate, unscrupulous people – like certain landlords - take advantage of them.

I mention this because I read a recent post on the r/Vancouver sub-Reddit community with this charming title: “My friend lives in Burnaby and their neighbour is renting out their house to 20+ people. The tenants are nightmares, how to deal with it?”

This is what the person posting it says: “They all pay the landlord cash so it's shady to begin with, but that's not what is affecting my friend. The tenants with cars park their car in front of my friend's driveway (they live in a one of those collections of houses that isn't a cul de sac), half of them cut across her yard, they're a loud and disruptive, they have open fires.”

reddit housing
A Reddit post. Screenshot

If this situation is actually true – and I’m always skeptical – what “catfishlady” is describing is an illegal flophouse. I say illegal because according to the City of Burnaby, a “boarding, lodging or rooming house” may not exceed 15 people.

Based on the more than 50 comments to the post, the respondents are angry and suggest all sorts of ways to get this place shut down. There’s also a distinct anti-Chinese sentiment to the entire thing.

What is missing in this debate is any sort of sympathy for people forced to accept these kind of potentially dangerous living conditions. We’re talking about people living on the edge of poverty who have no other options in an expensive region of Canada. Oh, but hey, they are taking up parking spaces.

All the people in this thread want to do is shut the place down. Great, then where are these folks supposed to live? Sure, it’s a bad situation, but there are obviously few, if any, alternatives available to them. Shutting this place down would just leave “20-plus” people homeless.

I wish people got this angry about our political leaders allowing this housing crisis to fester and metastasize over the years. But then that would require people to show some compassion - something that is in even shorter supply than affordable housing.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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