Thousands at risk of being homeless

Alisha Morrissey
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Municipalities have to prepare for affordable housing crisis, conference told

Everybody knows the cost of housing in Newfoundland and Labrador is skyrocketing.

But when a municipalities conference was told nearly 13,000 people are at risk of homelessness in St. John’s, there was an audible gasp in the room.

Municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador are meeting in St. John’s this week and one of the presentations on the agenda was about affordable housing and what towns can do about it.

Kimberly Yetman-Dawson, the new director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network, spoke first at the information session, explaining that while you may never see people panhandling on street corners in Springdale, there are probably homeless people there.

There is little research to prove homelessness is a growing problem in rural areas of the province, but anecdotal evidence shows there are people “couch surfing” or living in squalor in abandoned sheds or even in their cars, she said.

“They actually don’t define themselves as being homeless.”

Yetman-Dawson says like never before, seniors and young people are being affected by the growing dichotomy between rich and poor.

In Newfoundland and Labrador there are long waiting lists for affordable housing and, with rents increasing, more people are being pushed out of their homes.

In fact, nearly 50 per cent of the units with rents under $500 a month have been eliminated from the rental market in recent years, she said.

Vacancy rates in Corner Brook are at 0.4 per cent, in Grand Falls-Windsor the rate is 0.7 per cent, Yetman-Dawson said.

But work is being done on the issue, she said. Ten towns in the province have created a homelessness action plan, which is used to identify people at risk, to collect as much information on homelessness in their regions as possible and to help engage their communities.

"If we don't say to ourselves that we can do it, then it will never get done." Kimberly Yetman-Dawson, Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network

Towns are the key, Yetman-Dawson said, because municipalities can leverage money from other governments to build housing, they can provide in-kind solutions, proceed quickly with zoning changes or provide maintenance where needed.

For the conference, though, Yetman-Dawson asked that the towns only agree to support a resolution by the City of St. John's that promises to keep affordable housing on the radar screens of towns in hopes of being an advocate for the need and show a united front to other levels of government.

Also speaking at the conference was Glenn Furlong, a representative of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., who focused on other sources of funding. He also discussed a free housing action plan that the corporation is providing to small towns (less than 25,000 people).

Both speakers were questioned about where the resources were to come from to do that much work.

Beverly O'Brien from Cape Broyle said aside from having a volunteer council, the number of volunteers in the town are tapped out.

Boyd Snook, asked how his town was supposed to put a priority on housing when in Sunnyside there are still many homes without water and sewer.

Both Furlong and Yetman-Dawson agreed money could be found from other sources to help fund the work.

"If we don't say to ourselves that we can do it, then it will never get done," Furlong said.

 

amorrissey@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Springdale, Corner Brook Grand Falls-Windsor St. John's Cape Broyle Sunnyside

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Recent comments

  • Adam
    February 13, 2013 - 10:24

    It's now February 2013 and people having problems with making ends meet are facing homelessness and considering living in tents. I don't want to face that situation but I also have thought about living in a tent for the past 2 years now.

  • MF
    October 13, 2010 - 10:00

    I am a landlord and let me tell you some of the issues we are having. All was going well with the new tenants that moved in November 2009. Until we received a phone call that the rent of $550 would be late. All is good. This is April 2010. No problem, cause we are reasonable. End of June 2010 they are paid for May all of except $25. We talked it out and they promised they would pay extra to get caught up. Two weeks later (July 15) a message is left on our answering machine that rent would not be ready. Several message was left for them to no avail. They were served with eviction papers July 22, 2010 to vacate the premises by August 1. Today is Oct 13 and they are still there, because we are going BY THE BOOK, thru Landlords & Tenancy Act. And to make matters worse, they have stolen our washer and dryer and the police won't charge them with theft. Believe me, not all landlords are out there to gouge. I just want a decent tenant.

  • Kimberley
    October 09, 2010 - 12:38

    I think it's about time this issue was looked into! I know how hard it is to find a place to rent that has affordable rent. Add to that, I have guide/service dogs (working and retired) and am a wheelchair user. If I do manage to find a place with rent that I can afford I can't get into the building! If I can get into the building the landlords have an "absolutely no pets" rule. I explain that they legally can't refuse to rent to someone because they have a guide dog (they can get fined and go to prison), but they don't seem to care at all. I keep finding the sam apts. listed on websites over and over (I've been looking for 4 months). These apts. are under $750 but the ads say "no smoking, ABSOLUTELY no pets and no children!" Maybe if they weren't so strict and gave people a chance they would rent their apt. for longer and not have to increase the rent to begin with!

  • Jewelia
    October 09, 2010 - 10:12

    It's excellent that they're acknowledging that there IS a problem. I've been looking for an affordable 3 bedroom apartment for the past 4 months, and I'm finding it IMPOSSIBLE. The prices are so high that I'm paying $650 for a ROOM. This isn't acceptable. Low income people/families shouldn't have to go through this. It's alright if you have $2000 to spend on rent every month - but the thing is - not a lot of people do.

  • mother to all
    October 08, 2010 - 20:34

    Everyone shouted for the minimum wage to go up and we got it raised. Along with that comes increases in property tax and lumber and paint and flooring and and and...I've always been proud at charging the lowest rent in my end of the city because it allowed me to choose a great tenant from many prospective renters. I hated to tell my fabulous tenants last year that their rent was going up. The one lady on income support, I even allowed her time to check with her s/w to see what the maximum they would pay for her rent was so it wouldn't cut into her grocery money or I wouldn't lose her. With 3 rental units, my net profit last year was NEGATIVE $500. All three rented all year and it cost me money to keep them going. It's easy to complain about your rent going up when you're not paying the mortgage, interest, increased property tax, the income tax on the rent, the insurance increases, upkeep, etc. No one asks me if it's a good time for paint or flooring. It's "I NEED this". Two sides to every coin.

  • Sambo
    October 08, 2010 - 20:21

    What Ms. Yetman-Dawson doesn't mention, is that the "poverty industry", of which she is a part and depends on to derive her living, is not well served by people of her ilk. She, and they, depend on folks remaining where they are on the social ladder so she can continue to draw an income by paying lip service to their plight.

  • mary
    October 08, 2010 - 20:18

    Anyone who is surprised as this must have had their head in the sand for a while. Homelessness is nothing new and, of course, it is getting worst. Look at the costs of housing - whether you buy or rent you also have to factor in h/l and transportation. I've seen cheaper places but they aren't on a bus route, if a person doesn't have a car.... Even if a person does have a car they need to consider proximity to workplace etc. etc. What has happened here has happened elsewhere and people knew this was going to happen, it was talked about, warned of. "Prosperity" has created greed. I had a major rent increase - why? because the landlord can get away with it. It is about making money, as much as possible. Houses have been bought by people who see them as an investment, they have bought up available cheaper houses and this leaves the less wealthy at the mercy of such investors. No cheaper homes to buy, left with renting. Mark - if rental rates weren't so attractive to investors there would be fewer of them buying up the cheaper homes. This would leave those homes available for the lower income levels to purchase. Noone is buying big new homes and turning them into rental units. They are buying the older homes, the smaller ones and leaving nothing for people who might be able to buy such for themselves. The cheaper houses have been bought up by these investors who gouge the people who at one time could have afforded those very homes. Rent caps would lead to more affordable homes available to buy and the renters would be able to buy them. A great thing to wish for.

  • California Pete
    October 08, 2010 - 12:28

    So they said it could not happen in Canada what went on down here . Well Way back I said it is on its way up your way. Well I can only say " I told you so " sory to inform you again .

  • Shirley
    October 08, 2010 - 11:07

    Robin, yes you are right, it is unfortunate that with prosperity comes the risk that some will be left behind. I can understand that the rent in newly constructed homes would be higher but to increase the rent in the older homes and appartment complexes just because the owner can is gouging!..This may sound crazy but I would like to see an inspection of all the substandard basement units before the landlord can impose a rent increase. I have lived, rented, and worked in St. John's and I have seen the basements suites of many appartments. Sad at best! The rich have always gotten richer on the backs of the lower income, students etc... and NO I do not believe that our province is any better than that!

  • Frank M
    October 08, 2010 - 10:07

    The statistics Ms. Yetman-Dawson raises are concerning. The Williams government has increased the minimum hourly wage in this province to exceed that of Alberta, but clearly the rise in property values and migration to the Avalon pennsula have caused those increases to be mitigated in terms of the ability to find affordable housing for lkower wage earners and students. To suggest that our towns might hold the answers is more difficult to understand unless our towns can attract business and jobs.

  • Robin Brentnall
    October 08, 2010 - 08:42

    It's unfortunate that with prosperity comes the risk that some will be left behind. We, as a kind, gentle, carrying people, need to demand legislation to ensure increases in rents and housing costs are controlled in order to keep housing at a reasonable amount, not a premium cash grab. Getting rich on the backs of students, low income earners, and pensioners is something that I've seen in other areas of the country. Unlike other provinces, we are bigger than that.

    • Concerned Student
      October 08, 2010 - 14:06

      Kind, gentle? Newfoundlanders as a whole are some of the most selfish, disrespectful people I have ever met....and I'm from Newfoundland! I was lucky enough to live away and see how the rest of the country works. And it often works better where landlord/tenancy relations are concerned. Attitudes on this island need to change in a big way. The landlords here have unbelievable expectations of tenants and are engaging in a class war with those who have no choice but to rent while they got to MUN (for example). * Has anyone noticed the families with small children BEGGING on rental websites like 'kijiji' for a place to live? Why should they be reduced to groveling to such resentful landlords just for the right to shelter? It is sad. Shame on Newfoundland for waiting this long to notice an overwhelming problem!

  • Bonnie
    October 08, 2010 - 07:29

    I've read over the NL Rental Act and there is nothing in there that sets out rules about rental rate increases or maximum damage deposit amounts. I've seen people forced out of what was once affordable housing due to a huge increase to their rent simply because the home owner wants to gouge them for more money or get people in that are willing to pay astronomical rental rates just so they have a roof over their heads. Or damage deposits starting at 2/3 the cost of a month's rent - it's hard enough coming up with 1.5 months rent to cover damage deposit and first month's rent...and there are places that charge more than that for a deposit! It has meant that I've stayed put in my sub-standard suite for the past three years despite it not being adequate for my needs - the price is right for my budget, despite ongoing issues with mold and dampness. I simply cannot afford to move due to rental increases and ridiculous deposit demands. I'd love to move out of my basement suite and into an apartment but looking at the rental rates and deposits makes me want to cry. There is no such thing as decent affordable housing in this city, especially when you are not in a position to share accommodations, and even there people have gotten burnt due to idiotic rules and restrictions. And by affordable I mean affordable to lower income families and individuals, not those working high income jobs.

    • Mark
      October 08, 2010 - 11:06

      @Bonnie: The Act you are looking for is the Residential Tenancies Act, 2000. Sections 12 and 14 deal with permitted security deposits amounts and rental increases respectively. The Province has legislated in this area. Have a look at: http://assembly.nl.ca/Legislation/sr/statutes/r14-1.htm#10_ They have capped security deposits and limited when a landlord can increase rent. That said, they have not capped rental rate increases. It could be argued that to artificially constrain rental rates would be to reduce the value of a persons investment. The Government does not dictate maximum increases in stock values or gold, why should they tell a property owner that their investment will be capped in terms of future growth? If rental rates are not attactive to investors, they will sell the homes to people who will then live in the property themselves. This puts the old tenant in a worse situation then if the rent had just been increased. Be carefuk what is wished for.

    • Bonnie
      October 08, 2010 - 18:21

      @Mark - I was almost in a situation where potential buyers were discussing moving my son and I out of our suite. I was in a state of panic because I knew that the likelihood of finding another home was next to nil unless I could find a way to afford rent to the tune of $650+ for an apartment. Living on a limited income makes such rent a bit hard to chew on, especially when looking at deposits to the tune of 2/3 of a month's rent. I didn't even run into this crap while living in BC, just outside of Vancouver. I do understand that property owners of rental units wish to make money from their investments but what about people who simply can no longer afford to pay for a roof over their head? Lack of low income housing for people that don't have small children is pretty damn hard to come by, and the waiting lists for low income housing aren't exactly short. It is a bad situation to be in when a parent has to forgo paying the power bill in order to keep a roof over their child's head, and no, I'm not talking about myself although it's come damn close. There is a huge need for low rent housing in this city - for low income families, students, disabled, etc. - but there seems to be a lack of that as well as a lack of people giving enough of a damn simply for the almighty dollar.