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Real Estate

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

By Jean Grant| Photography by Brittany Carmichael
How a union representative lives in 400 square feet
Shannon B, 47

Union representative

Where: Bay and Dundas How big: 400 square feet How much: $1,100 per month

In 2012, Shannon lived in a 900-square-foot condo that she owned in Scarborough. But she always dreamed of living downtown. So, that year, she made it her New Year’s resolution to list her condo, sell her car and relocate to the city centre. While looking for places to rent, Shannon came across a new building at Bay and Dundas with hundreds of units available. The rent was just over $900 a month at the time. She moved in a few months later.

The building is owned by the YWCA and only allows female tenants. Most of the units are occupied by women who are being supported by the organization, while the rest of the residents, including Shannon, pay the market average for rent. When she toured the complex, Shannon was warned that some of her neighbours might have substance abuse or mental health problems, but that didn’t bother her. “I looked at some other buildings where I’m sure people were using drugs,” she says. “At least here they’re getting help.”

Shannon chose her apartment in part because it has a tangerine-coloured wall. She also loved that it was a corner unit with lots of windows. Relative to the other rooms in the building, Shannon got a spacious closet, which she outfitted with more shelving. That’s where she stores her off-season clothing, extra bedding and cleaning supplies. After moving in, she slowly started decorating surfaces with funky turquoise accessories and travel mementos, including a sizable mask collection with pieces from Morocco, Thailand, China and Cuba. When friends stay over, they sleep on an air mattress in the kitchen.

The tour

Here’s the entrance with the orange wall. Other units had walls in different colours, like blue or yellow. She wasn’t allowed to alter the paint job, so instead, Shannon hand-painted her initials and hung them on the wall:

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

Shannon ditched most of her old furniture when she downsized from the Scarborough apartment, but that dark-brown couch survived the purge. She made the light fixture herself by wrapping a mixture of yarn and glue around a beach ball. There’s extra storage inside that turquoise ottoman:

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

Here are a few pieces from her mask collection. She tries to buy one whenever she travels (which is quite a bit):

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How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

The rice hat is from Thailand and the laughing Buddha is from China:

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

Shannon’s mother found that wooden hutch at a garage sale:

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

Compared to other units in the building, Shannon got a nice-sized closet:

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

Shannon bought her headboard at a garage sale with her mother. In her old condo, she used it as a room divider, but repurposed it for her current bedroom. The dolls hanging beside the mattress are hand puppets from Indonesia:

How a union representative lives in 400 square feet

Do you live in a tiny place? We want to talk to you.

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