Ballooning Clarenville economy hitting housing market

Barbara
Barbara Dean-Simmons
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Seeking solutions

It's an issue that has challenged many towns and cities across Canada.

Up until the early 1990s, says Sheilagh Malone, outreach facilitator for Canada's housing strategy, Canada was a world leader in social housing.

"Then came the cuts under the (Brian) Mulroney government and it didn't take long for homelessness to become visible in larger cities," Malone told a regional municipal symposium at Clarenville earlier this month.

As rent and mortgage costs rise, people begin looking for alternatives cheaper apartments, friends couches, or a warm mall on a cold day. - Submitted photo

Clarenville -

It's an issue that has challenged many towns and cities across Canada.

Up until the early 1990s, says Sheilagh Malone, outreach facilitator for Canada's housing strategy, Canada was a world leader in social housing.

"Then came the cuts under the (Brian) Mulroney government and it didn't take long for homelessness to become visible in larger cities," Malone told a regional municipal symposium at Clarenville earlier this month.

Organized by the Discovery Regional Development Board, the symposium drew together municipal leaders from the region to discuss common issues.

While there may not be people living on the streets in local towns, Malone says that doesn't mean that people aren't homeless.

"People are less likely to live on the street, but they are living in sheds, in cabins in the woods or couch surfing - finding temporary shelter with relatives and friends and creating overcrowding in some houses," Malone told the symposium.

Meanwhile, she said, "a lot of people are one paycheque away from crisis."

Several of those at the seminar agreed there are people in local communities who need help with housing.

"There are a lot of seniors and ... a lot of people looking for cheaper places to rent," said Bonavista Mayor Betty Blackmore.

Youth problem

Sunnyside town councillor Boyd Snook also noted the system doesn't provide well for young adults who are too old - under provincial guidelines - for foster care, but really too young to be living on their own.

"Once you turn 16 you become a youth in care," he noted, "not a foster child. The system will set them up in an apartment and pay for their groceries and other necessities."

Yet that type of system can lead to problems, he said, and even homelessness.

The apartment for the 16-year-old living alone often becomes a hangout for other teens. Faced with complaints of noise and the like, landlords often evict the teenaged tenant.

"I know one kid who was couch surfing for almost two years," says Snook.

Others shared stories of people who, to save on the cost of heat, barred off most of their house and lived in just two rooms.

"Some people go to the mall during the day because it's heated," added Malone.

In a town like Clarenville, where speculation over industrial development is creating a high demand for rental units in a pricy housing and rental market, some wondered how much a town could do on the issue of homelessness.

Clarenville town councillor Keith Rodway pointed out, "You can't force private individuals to give up rental income."

He suggested the answer might lie in subsidies for people to build low-income housing.

Malone noted, however, there are solutions. Towns and cities in some provinces, she noted, have enacted legislation limiting how much rents can increase in a given year.

She added, as well, that surplus federal housing - buildings owned by agencies like the military or the RCMP - can serve a secondary purpose as affordable housing units.

Government has a program whereby they turn over these properties, for a dollar, to non-profit organizations that wish to provide social housing in a community.

Malone says there are solutions. And the main ingredient is to get people - towns and organizations - talking about the issue and brainstorming ideas.




Projects

Banking on the future
It appears the building boom is continuing in Clarenville
As of mid-April, almost 30 permits have been issued for newcomers and 18 of them were for March.
According to statistics from Public Works, there were 40 permits for 2009 compaired to the 18 issued for March this year and 10 as of mid-April.
This is much higher than last year, but why?
Long-time real estate broker with Clarenville Realty Ltd. Neil Norcott said the volume of development - including the number of properties for sale and people looking to buy homes - has increased this year.
Although he doesn't deny the mild winter allowed more development, he said what led to the increase is a mixed scenario - a combination of homeowners building homes for their own use and contractors building homes for sale.
"This is probably driven by speculation that we're going to see a stronger year in the real estate market," Norcott said.
He said although Clarenville saw a similar trend during the construction of Hibernia, housing costs are much higher than before and affordable homes are becoming harder to acquire.
"Housing prices are going up based on speculation of the projects that are in our surrounding area," he said, adding the demand for housing supports the need for new homes to be built.
"Hebron is the closest one and certainly the indication that (the project) will go ahead will draw up our (housing) market."

Organizations: Discovery Regional Development Board, RCMP, Public Works Clarenville Realty

Geographic location: Clarenville, Canada, Bonavista Sunnyside Hebron

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