Lower mainland, we seem to be at a [housing] impasse

We remain without a home, three months after the flood. I would say it’s wearing thin, but at this point there’s nothing left to wear at all.

It was over two years ago, before I was diagnosed with cancer, that we first considered buying a place of our own. We found a place, we made a bid, our offer was accepted, and we realized that the cost of daycare was about to become so crippling that there was no way we could afford both a home of our own and childcare in Port Moody, so we couldn’t remove our subjects. That was the first place we failed to buy.

Next came the cancer, and the chemotherapy, and all the stress that accompanied it. Once that stabilized and I went into remission, we started casually looking for a place to buy in Port Moody once more, as we were feeling squeezed in our apartment.

The first place we liked, back in February, we saw only on a whim. It was a nice three bedroom townhouse in the complex where Lyra’s best friend lives, listed at $333,000 and it was basically perfect for us. We dropped in to the open house on a Saturday and were unexpectedly making an offer by Sunday morning.

But so were a whole lot of other people.

We offered the maximum we could pull together for a 5% down payment on short notice, put in our offer, and hoped for the best. We were outbid by a mere three thousand dollars; but it was three thousand dollars we didn’t have. The experience renewed our excitement and hope that we actually could, in fact, buy a place that would fit our family’s needs – room for the people, room for our bikes, room for an office where Adam could work from home, and close to the daycare and school. So, while we were a bit sad that we lost the place, we decided to start looking in earnest again.

It was a month before another seemingly likely candidate surfaced. It was in the same complex. And it was listed at $90,000 more than the place we had bid on. It was more than we could reasonably afford, and we thought, “it can’t possibly go for that much; look at what the last place sold for, and this one isn’t updated as much as that one was!”

We were wrong. It sold for just under asking price.

A new market

Slightly horrified, but still hopeful, we kept looking. Vancity started offering a first-time homebuyer’s promotional loan that allowed us to increase our down payment, which opened our options up a bit more, but that last place selling for nearly 100k over what the market suggested turned out to be a sign of the future, and not some sort of anomaly.

It was a few more months before we found another townhouse to bid on. It had some compromises; 40 years old (again), asking $388,000, in a not-as-ideal-but-still workable location, with the original furnace and mostly older appliances. We did everything right with our bid – we removed all the subjects before making an offer, including paying for a home inspection beforehand, and we came in above asking at our absolute maximum of $395,000, knowing that with strata fees on top of mortgage payments, loan payments, and the CMHC payment, we were going to have slightly less room in our monthly budget than we wanted. But it was still manageable, so we took that leap.

Once more, we were outbid — this time by around $15,000. We were a little more heartbroken than the last time, because we had tried so hard to do everything right. But we regrouped and kept looking.

Velociraptors strike!

It was only a few weeks later in May that we encountered our next Velociraptor Incident: the great flood of 2015. Suddenly, we were rendered homeless; our things put into storage, struggling to find a place to live while they assessed the damage and started on repairs of our rental apartment.

Our family of four (+dog) couchsurfed, we stayed in hotels, and finally we found a furnished place to rent for the summer, in the hopes that we would be able to move back in after repairs were done. We couldn’t help thinking that maybe this meant the right place to buy would show up, finally, but the more we looked, the more the prices went up around our home community. With child daycare spaces being so hard to get, and not wanting to change Lyra’s elementary school unless absolutely necessary, we were still hoping to find a place… but the reality of our situation was getting demoralizing. Not only were fewer and fewer places available in the Lower Mainland real estate market, but we were also facing the fact that the places that were coming up were listing above our (already increased with help from the Credit Union) price range.

The forty year old Port Moody townhomes we had previously seen listed in the 350-400k range were listing at 400-450. We were getting priced out of our home area, where we had built our support and social networks, where our kids had found friends and security in their own lives, where we had easy access to our downtown jobs. People started telling us to move further east to Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Mission even, and we seriously considered it and looked around, weighing the benefits vs. the costs. Turns out we don’t like Pitt Meadows, or Maple Ridge, and especially not Mission, and moving further out without any benefit other than home ownership was a depressing thought.

Enforced vacation living is not as fun as it sounds

Our furnished summer rental gave us stability and a base close to our old place, which made it easy to keep the girls in their already arranged summer daycares for the summer. All of our belongings stayed in storage except for the bare minimum. Knowing we were going to move again at the end of the summer, we didn’t want to have to unpack and repack too much. It was like staying in a vacation suite, but still having to go to work and have normal non-vacation lives.

We kept our plans to take a road trip to Oregon in early August, where we had a lovely time. And we kept trying to figure out how to resolve our personal housing crisis.

Repairs on our rental place had not yet begun by early July, and we were given no real timeline as to when they might be done. Maybe in November, if we get lucky. And even if we do move back into the old apartment eventually, it was already getting too small for us. The girls share a small bedroom; the third bedroom is Adam’s office. What little storage space we have there is taken up by bikes, which spill over into the dining area. It’s mostly underground, and damp, and while they’re supposed to be fixing the mould issue, we’re still not totally comfortable with the idea of moving back in there with that factor. We spent so much time last winter sick; it might be a coincidence, but it might not.

We have to move on August 31. September will be a combination of staying with friends and house-sitting. October and beyond is a mystery. Moving every two weeks or so is exhausting, but it’s what we have to do. The kids are showing signs of the stress and lack of stability — Lyra worries that we’re going to end up on the street, and tells us so. Adam and I aren’t doing much better.

So we’ve started to think a little more creatively. We’ve started to look at the Sunshine Coast.

It’s a tricky concept, but we’re trying to figure out how we can make it work. We haven’t found the right solution yet. We’re more hopeful about this idea, however, than we are of finding a place that works for us that we can afford in our neighbourhood.

I’ll let you all know how things progress.

Lyra’s worst birthday ever

I spent 11 hours in the last few days at the Eagle Ridge Hospital Emergency Ward.

On Thursday night – July 9th, and Lyra’s birthday – we took Lyra out for the traditional birthday Sushi dinner and non-traditional movie while Pandra was visiting friends for the evening.

Except that isn’t what happened at all.

We arrived at the sushi place and ordered our food. Lyra complained that her stomach hurt and we tried some basic parental troubleshooting techniques (namely, asking a bunch of questions in an attempt to rule things out).

Our food arrived and we started eating… except Lyra didn’t want to eat, and complained that her stomach hurt even more. And then she started crying. We packed up our food, cancelled our movie tickets, and headed to a walk-in clinic, where he was concerned that he couldn’t rule out appendicitis, and sent us along to the Emergency room at Eagle Ridge Hospital for a second opinion.

Emergency room waiting areas are not where good birthday memories are made. Neither are hospital beds, severe dehydration, or the experience of having an IV put in while screaming at the top of one’s lungs and being held down by three adults, including your traitorous mother. Lying the bed after hour four of Eagle Ridge, Lyra was crying and telling me that this was the worst birthday of her entire life.

I can’t fault her on that one. It pretty much sucked.

Lyra with an IVBut by midnight they were reasonably assured that, while they couldn’t totally rule it out, appendicitis wasn’t the culprit. The lab did discover a raging bladder infection, so the doctor ordered a bag of antibiotics added to the IV drip that was rehydrating my displeased little girl and a prescription to follow.

“Most of those animals live in the African Savannah, mom! Who would even put that there??”
She wasn’t all tears and screaming. Multiple times she pointed out that the artwork on the wall of the children’s room we were in — a jungle scene featuring a snake, a giraffe, a lion, a cheetah, a hippo, a zebra, a monkey, and an elephant — was scientifically inaccurate. “Who puts all those animals together in the jungle? Most of them live on the African Savannah! And hippos aren’t PINK! And their eyes are creepy!” she scolded indignantly.At midnight, finally, they decided that Lyra was feeling and looking much better with the help of painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and took out the IV and sent us home with a requisition for an ultrasound to be done the next day. They were reasonably confident that it wasn’t her appendix, but the doctor wanted to be as thorough as possible and was unwilling to rule it out entirely. The three of us packed up and took ourselves home.

Friday morning I worked from home, then headed back to the hospital with the now seven year old Lyra for an ultrasound. She loves getting ultrasounds. She calls it a belly massage. The last one she had was for a bladder infection, and she enjoyed it so much that she was looking forward to this one.

Once complete, they sent us back to check in at emergency so a doctor could go over the results with us. And then the waiting started.

First we registered, then waited in the main waiting room for nearly two hours. Then they moved us to the RAZ waiting room, and it took me nearly two hours of our waiting time to figure out that RAZ mean Rapid Assessment Zone. Then we got moved to a curtained area with a bed for a little while, and then sent back to the same room we’d spent all of our time in the night before.

Throughout these transitions, Lyra moved through a variety of dispositions. At first she was cheerful and dancing around the nearly empty main waiting area. Then she got bored, which quickly turned into worried. When it occurred to her that they might put another IV in her, she went from worried to a full on sobbing anxiety attack, where nothing I said could convince her that there wasn’t a nurse coming at any moment to poke her with a needle. I held her in my arms like when she was my tiny baby and not a tall, gangly kid, where I sat in my uncomfortable waiting area chair wishing we were somewhere else. When she came back from the cliff of anxiety, she settled into pure desolation.

“This is the worst day of my life. It’s the worst birthday I’ve ever had,” she would repeat over and over between her tears. “I hate this day.” All I could do was be with her, try to reassure her that things would get better, and keep telling her that I did not believe an IV was coming.

All of the tears and curling up in a ball and general unhappiness convinced the nurses that Lyra was still in pain, which she wasn’t. Someone brought her a comfort teddy bear to help her feel better. It didn’t really work, but I appreciated the effort. We were both starving by then — we had planned to go get lunch after the ultrasound was done, and that never happened — and I think we were both pretty Hangry. I was exhausted from hours of trying to manage an ongoing anxiety attack turned desperate depression, Lyra was exhausted from hours of having an ongoing anxiety attack turned desperate depression, and we both just wanted to go home.

By this point I didn’t believe it was appendicitis. The Ultrasound technician had told us that she couldn’t find Lyra’s appendix, and that it was a good thing, since an inflamed appendix sticks out. I was fairly certain that seeing a doctor was just going to repeat the same things, that we were to continue treating the bladder infection with antibiotics, and that if she got worse we should bring her back in.

When they moved us the last time from the emergency ward bed to the Children’s room in the ER, Lyra started to panic about getting an IV again. The nurse said, “No, we’re not doing an IV, we’re just taking you to another room,” and suddenly Lyra was perfectly calm and happy again. I suppose my betrayal during the IV incident of the night before, while never being mentioned by her, had not gone unnoticed, nor been forgotten. She would only believe a nurse. And since the previous nurse had said they’d wait to see what the doctor said when Lyra asked about the IV, she assumed that meant it was a 100% chance that it would happen.

The new nurse wasn’t talking about not getting an IV ever — she was just saying that they weren’t doing an IV right at that moment. Thankfully, Lyra didn’t understand it that way, so it helped.

We spent the last hour and a half back in the room we were in at the beginning. Someone brought us colouring sheets and crayons, we played toss-the-bear-around-the-room games, she jumped on the bed, we decided that the extremely upset and screaming small baby was actually a velociraptor (poor thing sounded like one), and Lyra would occasionally poke her head out the door and watch people go by, wondering if we’d been forgotten. I explained to her that sometimes in the emergency room other people will get seen before you because they have more pressing issues, and she accepted that.

Secretly I wondered if we’d been forgotten too.

After spending more money on parking at the hospital in two days than I normally spend on dinner for the family, we were seen by the ER doctor. He was pleasant and apologized for the wait, and patiently let Lyra ramble at him about completely unrelated topics (to a point, anyway). He said exactly what I expected — ultrasound showed no appendix, they don’t like to do a CT scan on a seven year old if they can avoid it, it’s probably okay, keep an eye on her and bring her back if she has pain and it ramps up for any reason — and sent us home.

Our plans to get lunch, to pick up a cake for her birthday, to fill her prescription from the night before, and to get me back home so I could do a some more work from there, were wrecked. Instead we got slurpees, picked up Pandra from daycare, and headed straight home.

Today, I’m hoping, made up for Lyra’s worst birthday ever — we all went to Cultus Lake Water Park with Lyra’s best friend and her family, and we had a picnic lunch there and rode waterslides all day long.

It’s going to be a memorable birthday for her, I expect. It was for me.

On Velociraptor Incidents

I am out of cope. My whelm is over. There is a lot going on right now, and I’m not handling it as well as I normally handle things. I’m writing this late at night while sitting on a hard floor covered in pillows, in a big empty living room in a home that is not my own.

Let me back up. Adam and I have adopted a rating method to help us categorize the severity of problems and crises that we’ve had to handle in the last couple of years. It happened a bit like this, in a conversation over instant message:

Me: Hey. We should put this on the wall at home and keep track of how many days it’s been since the last major crisis in our lives.

Adam: Print one out.

So I did, and we put it on the wall and placed a post-it note with the number four on it. This was in December of 2014.

Going back a bit to late November, we had enrolled in extensive lifelong training for our dog Summer. It was a great investment, and the training was amazing for her, and without it we were worried that her separation anxiety and howling every time we left her behind meant that we’d have to find a new home for her or get kicked out of our apartment. Neither option was a good one, and we were feeling a lot of stress and helplessness. So we put $1,500 in dog training and gear on our credit card and implemented a plan to pay it back.

A week later we learned that Lyra needed more dental surgery (her first was when she was three) to make room for the adult teeth coming in to her tiny mouth. A $1,000 dentist bill later, our credit card statement was unimpressed, and we tried to adapt our repayment plan.

And four days previous to Adam’s and my conversation above — a couple of weeks after the surgery announcement — on the day that Adam’s grandmother passed away after a rapid an somewhat unexpected descent into illness, we took Summer to the 24-hour emergency vet. Her breathing had become laboured, she looked sick and weak, and she wouldn’t lie down because she couldn’t breathe when she did. She had developed pneumonia and her lungs were full of fluid, so they kept her at the animal hospital overnight and told Adam that if he hadn’t brought her in she may not have survived the night. A $1,000 vet bill later and the next morning, we brought her home, recovering.

Each of these incidents on their own were trying, exhausting, and stressful, and expensive. Having them come one on top of the next without a chance to recover and breathe in between each one, right before Christmas and in a time when we were mourning a member of our family that meant a lot to us — it was becoming too much. We didn’t know how to handle it all. And then we put the Velociraptor Incident sign on the wall, and somehow that made everything just a bit easier to deal with. It had been four days since our last Velociraptor Incident (VI).

Categorizing events in the last couple of years as Velociraptor Incidents and non-Velociraptor Incidents helped put things into perspective. Cancer? Total Velociraptor Incident. Lyra’s surgery when it happened in January? Not really, since we’d been through dental surgery with her before and knew what to expect. One thousand dollars extra on the credit card? Manageable. $3500 all at once on the card? A bit more like a Velociraptor Incident. It made it easier to cope with things knowing we had a scale against which to measure them.

Two and a half weeks ago we had another Velociraptor Incident.

The great Spring flood of 2015

Adam phoned me at work just after noon on a Wednesday, one of the days that he usually works from home. His voice was an inexplicable hybrid of calm and frantic as he told me, “We have a major problem.” From his tone I knew that it was going to be a big one.

Our place is flooding. There’s water pouring down the wall of the girls bedroom and I don’t know where it’s coming from. There’s nothing I can do.”

I told him that I would come home, packed up my computer and stood outside on Hastings St. waiting for the next bus to Port Moody. It was a long time coming, and while I waited I received update after update from Adam on how things were going.

The Strata called an emergency plumber but they haven’t shown up yet.”

The water is filling up the floor in the girls’ room.”

“It’s moving into the hallway and going into the bike room and our bedroom.”

“It’s started running down all of the walls in their bedroom. I can hear it in the ceiling.

The plumber can’t find the water shutoff valve for our unit. Or for the entire building.”

Helplessly I stood at the bus stop, then sat on a bus that took forever to get me back home. By the time I had arrived, water had been flooding our place for two hours. It was still pouring out of the walls in Lyra and Pan’s bedroom with the water reaching nearly every room in the house, and the plumber was waiting for the City to arrive so they could shut off the water to the entire complex. The dog had been sent to dog daycare, blankets and towels were trying to hold back the deluge in vain, and all we could do was shift things out of the bedrooms and into the living room our out onto the patio and watch it all happen.

I was somewhat mistaken above… it was an electrician, not a carpenter.

By the end of the day we were booked into a hotel room, the dog was booked to stay overnight at the daycare, and we were shellshocked. I had rescued some clothes for the four of us, my guitar, and a couple of books and stuffies for the kids to sleep with at the hotel. Adam had already spoken to our insurance company, our landlord, the strata, the strata’s insurance, the emergency recovery team, and all of our neighbours. And he had reset the Velociraptor Incident sign to zero.

A new (temporary) home

We sat in the hotel room that night trying to figure out what to do next. The water damage to our place was thorough and meant that we couldn’t live there while it was being fixed. And there was some mold for the strata to deal with. According to our insurance company, they could find us alternate living arrangements, but we had a fixed amount in our budget to work with. They told Adam that the places they could find would cost a thousand dollars a week or more to rent, and may or may not keep us local to the kids’ school and daycare. It was a less than an ideal situation.

I took it upon myself to find a place for us, and looked up local furnished short-term rentals and AirBnB listings in Port Moody. The very first ad I saw on Craigslist was perfect – near our neighbourhood, still on transit lines (mostly), and big enough for the family. It wasn’t available until late June, but I decided we could make it through June with the multitude of offers we had to stay at various friends’ houses, or in hotels, or other short-term rental places. So I contacted them and explained the situation and hoped for the best.

The rest of the week we spent coordinating with all the relevant parties. They had moved giant dehumidifiers and fans into our place, and all of our belongings were in various piles of disarray. Our hotel suite was only available for two nights, so we moved into a friend’s basement (one of many basements offered to us that week) for the remainder of the weekend, where we had a Skype call with our future new short-term landlords (who live out of town) and made arrangements to move into their place far ahead of the original late June move-in date. It meant we would be camping out in a giant, empty townhouse, with whatever scraps of furniture, dishes, supplies, and beds we could piece together from our friends and by scavenging our own place before our things went into storage.

We moved in on June 1st. Our things have been moved to storage from our old place as of this week, to be assessed for damage (which doesn’t appear to be a lot in most cases though some of it was smelly from the dehumidifiers) and cleaned. This place we’re renting is ours until August 31st, at which point we either move back into our old place (if it’s ready by then) or find a new place to live temporarily until it is ready. Unless we figure something else out.

My status in all this?

I’m tired. It’s not from lack of sleeping – with no home internet for the last two weeks, I’ve been getting plenty of sleep. But the cumulative stress over the last two years has caught up to me. Each individual thing we’ve dealt with since early 2013 – almost buying a townhouse and deciding the timing was wrong (VI), then discovering my cancer and going through that treatment while trying to start a new job (VI), and then Adam developing a severe stress-related sickness for seven months once I was in recovery (VI), plus the aforementioned dog and massive expenses in December items (more VIs) they’ve torn me down a piece at a time. And the thought that we have to move again in less than three months — so don’t settle in fully or anything, folks — is exhausting.

I’ve lived optimistically for a long time. It hasn’t always been easy, but since my late twenties or so I learned how to do it, and eventually it came easily. I usually believe that things are going to work out, and while I may feel stressed and tired for a little while, I snap back to hope pretty quickly.

My elasticity is gone. I hesitate to say I’m depressed, but that’s partly because I don’t want it to be true. I don’t think I’m there yet; perhaps I am pre-depressed. But I’m not myself, and it’s all I can do some days to put my self together and get things done. Getting things done and dealing with things is what I do, so I am doing it, but I am exhausted, unhappy, and overwhelmed by it all. I feel as though this one thing is beyond my capacity to get through with any sense of humour. I am just a bit broken, and I’m lucky to have Adam to pick up the pieces I can’t hold together.

Part of me doesn’t want to move back in when the old place is repaired. It was already getting too crowded as the girls got older, and it was always damp and underground and dark and not ideal. But we find ourselves facing townhouse purchase prices beyond what we can afford as first-time buyers, or renting a bigger place that will cost easily twice what we currently pay in rent (as much as or more than a mortgage without providing any long-term financial benefits of being in the housing market). I feel trapped, which leaves me feeling hopeless. It’s not a feeling I enjoy.

I’m not who I want to be.

I want to think that this is an opportunity to pursue a major change of some sort in our lives. I want to turn this into something to be hopeful about. But I’m struggling with just getting through each day.