I wrote a story last week about collective housing, which is a growing subculture of people who form groups and rent big houses and penthouses from absentee landlords. Because there is a big group of them, the rent is cheap, and they’ve got a built-in community. As part of my story in this issue of the Globe, I asked property manager Denis Krasnogolov if he thinks foreign money is a big deal. I said the reason I’m asking is that there are many people in Vancouver who still don’t believe it is much of a problem, that it’s been overblown. “Are you kidding?” he said. He shook his head and laughed. Krasnogolov and his business partner David Blokh are from the Ukraine, they speak Ukrainian and Russian, and they deal with foreign investors all the time. A lot of them are from China, but many are coming from countries in the Eastern Bloc, where they’ve made their money in natural resources.
Krasnogolov is a licensed real estate agent. He and Blokh both have families here in Vancouver, and they are young entrepreneurs who are trying to launch a startup that makes sense in an increasingly bizarre housing market.
They formed Mansion Management in response to the near-zero vacancy rate and high price of rental housing.As I say in my story, the two men have found a niche market in connecting organized groups of renters with owners of big houses. The big houses are almost always owned by offshore investors who are parking their money in Vancouver land, which is stable, secure, and (because there are many more like them) going up in value every month. They often buy more than one property. They either sit on it or tear the existing house down and build a bigger house to boost the property value. They don’t care if the house sits empty because it’s comparatively cheap on the international market, and it’s purely a speculative investment, anyway.
“They don’t care about the house. They don’t care if it’s rented. They just want to hold land until time comes to sell,” Krasnogolov told me.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and people are getting more creative and resourceful in order to stay living in Vancouver. Planner and statistics nerd Andy Yan told me that overcrowding is always a byproduct of unaffordability. Some might view the collective housing movement as a happy return to community, like one big extended family, while others will just see a crowded house full of renters. Whatever spin we put on the phenomenon, one thing is certain: as long as they’re trying to make homes out of a distant landlord’s land bank, they’ll always be at the mercy of that investor’s whims.