Financial Literacy

These are the best personal finance reads from April 2019

By: Jessica Mach on May 1, 2019

It’s spring, which means tolerable temperatures, better foliage and, if the snow has finally stopped falling wherever you are, vastly diversified footwear options. If you’re living in an expensive real estate market, though, the approach of the new season might also entail one other thing: coming up with a creative living arrangement. 

It’s long been said that the most expensive cities in the country are grappling with housing crises, and in April, stories about the solutions that people are improvising ranked among the most interesting financial reads of the month. From empty mansions to dorms shared by students and working professionals alike, renters are getting creative — but are their solutions viable?

Read on to find out.

College Kids Are Living Like Kings in Vancouver’s Empty Mansions, via Bloomberg

In 2016, the City of Vancouver introduced an “empty homes tax” for residential properties that are vacant most of the year. The tax, which amounted to 1% of a property’s assessed value, was met with controversy. But its goal was one that more or less everyone could get on board with: giving homeowners an incentive to open up their properties so people can actually live in them.

At first glance, 1% doesn’t sound like much of an incentive at all. But with average home prices in Vancouver hovering above the $1 million mark, 1% is no joke: homeowners with vacant properties were looking at paying $10,000 in taxes (at least) each year.

So, how did homeowners deal? Many did exactly what the City hoped they would do: they became landlords. And because many of these new landlords are very, very wealthy, the properties they ended up renting out were often much bigger — and more extravagant — than most. Enter a new trend on Vancouver’s rental market (mansions) and its enthusiastic beneficiaries (22-year olds).

How four Gen Z roommates "get squishy" to afford a downtown lifestyle, via Toronto Star

At first glance, this story about four friends in their late teens and early 20s is nothing new: they live together in a cramped apartment, and two of them even share a room (each sleeping on their own twin bed). The arrangement isn’t ideal, but it’s not exactly shocking, either — especially for young people who are still in school and living away from their parents for the first time. Where’s the point of interest?

The answer lies in the precarity of their situation, and what it says about the state of Toronto’s rental market. Under the terms of their rental agreement, if one of the roommates wanted to move out, the remaining group would have to reapply for the apartment at market rate — which they won’t be able to afford. For the city’s renters, the situation probably rings familiar, and begs the question: how many Torontonians actually feel secure about their current living arrangement?

How Living In A Women-Only Residence Helped Me Become A Real Adult After College, via The Financial Diet

This story on women-only residences takes place in New York, but similar living spaces have long existed in Canadian cities, too. While they operate much like dorms — you rent a room, and share common areas with many more strangers than you would in a typical apartment — these residences are not only available to students; many working professionals, like the story’s author, use them as well.

What makes the story interesting is not how it highlights that these residences exist, so much as how it calls attention to how hard it can be to live up to expectations of adulthood — especially in a city where affordable living arrangements are few and far between.

“After graduation, you’re supposed to take a step forward and find your own space (even if that means living with roommates) and make your own rules,” the author writes. “You’re supposed to cook your own meals, and not spend your entire meager stipend on halal truck food and Lean Cuisines because you don’t have access to a kitchen. You’re supposed to buy furniture and pay your internet bill every month.

“Living in the dorms a few months after graduation made me feel stuck, like I was taking a step back in my development as a ‘real adult.’”