Councillor calls on MHAs, MPs to address affordable housing
A St. John’s city councillor wants the city’s MHAs and MPs to be more vocal about the affordable housing crunch.
Included in last Monday’s council meeting agenda was the executive summary of a report from the mayor’s advisory committee on affordable housing.
Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff sits on that committee.
“It recognized that financing, both public and private, is one of the major constraints in being able to deal with the whole issue of affordable housing,” Duff said of the report, which came out of a two-day conference in November of last year.
“There’s been no affordable rental housing built in this city for about 20 years,” added Duff.
Ward 2 Coun. Frank Galgay also spoke to the issue.
“This is perhaps one of the most pressing, and I would say priority items, that should be considered by this council,” said Galgay.
He said the city’s hot economy has made housing prices skyrocket, which has left some seniors, low income people and those with special needs scrambling to find affordable places to live.
“Only last week I had a gentleman walk into my office, who is having significant problems with a landlord,” Galgay told council. “He was very worried about the fact that if he complained too much, under the landlord tenancy act they would give him his notice without reason and he would be gone.”
Galgay asked the man if he’s looked for a new place to live, but with the vacancy rate so low, he told Galgay it’s very difficult to find housing.
Galgay then called on the MHAs and MPs who represent the city to do more.
“I’d like to hear them more vocal on this issue,” said Galgay. “In the next number of years it’s going to become a crisis unless all levels of government address ... the affordable housing issue.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, who represents the east end district of Signal Hill-Quidi-Vidi has already been quite vocal on the issue.
She noted the city does have a person to co-ordinate its affordable housing program and said the province has money available.
But she said what the province needs to do is create a housing division — beyond Newfoundland and Labrador Housing which manages existing low income housing.
Michael said that division could work with developers, municipalities and community groups to address the overall issue and co-ordinate joint building projects.
Cabinet minister and St. John’s Centre MHA Shawn Skinner seemed taken aback by Galgay’s comments.
“The province has done a lot. I’m not sure how well informed Coun. Galgay is about what the province has done with regards to affordable housing,” he said.
According to the minister, in the last seven or eight years the province has put in excess of $50 million into affordable housing.
“We’ve built about 900 new homes ... some of those have been built for seniors and families and persons with disabilities and persons with complex needs,” he said.
Skinner also said there’s a cost share program with Ottawa where incentives are available for developers to build low income housing.
“They can get $35,000 per (housing) unit on the island portion of the province and if they’re in Labrador it can be up to $50,000 of a forgivable loan for every unit they build,” he said.
But Michael said those incentives are not enough.
“One of the problems is that when community groups ... come up with a project and even get their project funding,then they find that they can’t find developers to work with them,” she said.
Michael said one group in Labrador had to forfeit money because they couldn’t find a developer.
Skinner also said there’s a rent supplement program for those who can’t afford market value for rents.
That program gives out $6 million a year and helps 1,400 people.
But Skinner acknowledged there is always more that can be done.
St. John’s East MHA Ed Buckingham added the government has an internal caucus committee on affordable housing.
He said it’s not just a St. John’s problem and gives the mining boom in Labrador West as an example of another area in need of more housing.
Buckingham said he does get frequent calls from constituents looking for help finding a place to live which they can afford.