The Story of a Home pt. 1

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My family and I have lived in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside for a decade. We live here because, despite its reputation for poverty, drug use, mental illness, violence and prostitution, we find the neighbourhood and the neighbours quite beautiful. We would not wish to raise our children anywhere else.

After several years of living in a large co-op, which restricted our ability to have people move in with us, my wife and I became determined to get a house. We knew that this was the right way to go. We needed to live with other people in order to more deeply explore the hard realities of Christian community, and we wanted to provide a place where our friends coming out of treatment could find a home. We knew that ownership in the neighbourhood was the only way to show that we intended to be a permanent fixture here. Many Christian missionaries come and go in this neighbourhood, so we needed to prove that we had bought in and were here for the long haul.

Unfortunately, getting a house in Vancouver’s DTES was a crazy idea, for a number of reasons. Vancouver is the second most expensive place on earth to buy property. Property values are through the roof, even on old rundown houses in dodgy neighbourhoods. Our neighbourhood is currently wrestling with gentrification, with people buying up old houses and businesses to transform them into expensive condos. This has the knock-on effect of pushing poor people out of the neighbourhood they have called home, sometimes for decades, and makes it nearly impossible to buy property. Additionally, if we wanted a home that could house our large family, plus others whom we wanted to live with, the property we purchased would have to be huge. Furthermore, as missionaries with a mindset of simplicity, we had never sought out any kind of high wages, meaning that we had very little money to work with.

Our dream, however, happened to coincide with a few other dreams. A general contractor friend of ours had been envisioning a building company that would employ men coming out of addictions treatment, and would offer them meaningful work, a safe place to live which they could eventually co-own, a community, and spiritual development. This company actually needed a run-down house to restore, which was perfect for our neighbourhood. The men could learn the building trade by working on the house, and balance it out by working on themselves at the same time. They would also be putting in a form of “sweat-equity” which would enable them to eventually become owners in both the business and the property.  We also became close with a few other people who longed to live in authentic community and were interested in investing alongside of us.

We pitched the idea to several agencies and levels of government, and everyone loved it. We even received honourable mention at the city level for our innovative idea. But no agency or government was ready to commit any funds, meaning we had a ton of moral support, but still no finances.

My wife had taken it upon herself to visit homes in our neighbourhood, door to door, and drop off letters asking if people were interested in selling to a local family. Within a week we received a positive response from a home owner across the street from our general contractor friend, right next door to a local brothel. So we had the vision, we had a prospective large, rundown home that we had exclusive rights to buy, we had people willing to move in and willing to renovate, but we had no money.

pt 2 soon…


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