Wanted: rental units

Andrew Robinson
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First St. John’s apartment building in 30 years won’t eliminate housing problems

It has been approximately 30 years since a new privately built apartment building with rental units has graced St. John’s, according to the city.

That is set to change with construction of a new building underway in Pleasantville, the city’s deputy mayor says more units are needed to accommodate people who cannot afford a mortgage in St. John’s.

As to why the city has not been able to attract private market rental housing builds, Shannie Duff said the issue boils down to economics.

“There are more incentives and more pay back in building condominium apartments, because you can get your money out and move on to your next project,” said Duff, who serves on the mayor's advisory committee on affordable housing.

Some former rental properties have been converted into condominiums, she added.

According to recent data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), the rental market vacancy rate for St. John’s is approximately 1.5 per cent.

“That’s the other side of our economic prosperity. Everybody’s very happy about it and things are great, but housing is one of the first areas where people who are not in that position of having rising incomes get hit, when you get speculation in the housing market.”

The new price home forecast in St. John’s for a single detached house is $360,000, according to CMHC.

“Supply has to be balanced with demand, and it hasn’t been in the case of rental housing,” said Duff.

Killam Properties Inc., a Halifax-based company, is already constructing a 71-unit rental property in the Pleasantville neighbourhood called Bennett House. The company eventually hopes to make 210 units available to residents of the city through a three-phase development, of which Bennett House is the first phase.

Duff notes the property is a market rental and not an affordable one.

“It won’t do a whole lot to deal with the affordable housing crunch, but I think it’s going to be a huge boon to seniors who may be empty-nesting and want to get more into rental than owning (a home). Everything helps, because housing is a continuum.”

Bruce Pearce, a community development officer with the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, said there have been signs of progress. The Canadian Home Builders Association has worked with the city on finding incentives and tools for developers interested in building affordable rental units.

“It’s really encouraging to see that builders are seeing this as a market (and) as an opportunity,” said Pearce, who added the current housing crunch is also affecting modest and moderate-income households.

“There’s always barriers to any type of construction and development in delivery of housing ... but if we put our heads together across the sectors — government, community, and the private sector — we can come up with ways that will make (rentals) work in this economy in St. John’s.”

Pearce suggests people can look to what has been done in Halifax, where he said there has been more private sector development for rental accommodations.

The city itself operates more than 420 rental units, some of which are low-end-of-market units with costs linked to what is considered the low end of the private sector price range. Others are priced relative to a person’s income.

Duff said the city has not built any new low-end-of-market units since the mid-1980s, and new units with a price linked to income have not been built since 1992. A lack of federal funding for such initiatives has stalled further development, she said.

“Having federal financing in the mix is critically important. The city project manages, owns, and operates, but it’s very difficult for us to afford to build the housing without some programs that comes from the provincial and federal governments.”

The city is now making use of federal-provincial support to build 30 new units — 24 for seniors and six for young adults with disabilities.

“It’s a start,” said Duff. “We just need that federal government budget to allocate some more funding for housing.”


Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Canada Mortgage and Housing, Bennett House, Duff.Killam Properties Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness Canadian Home Builders Association

Geographic location: Pleasantville, Halifax

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Recent comments

  • Brenda
    April 18, 2012 - 14:40

    This project would look a lot less like "affordable housing" if someone revisited the colour scheme - a more harmonious colour palette without garish hues such as lemon yellow and purple would give a much more upscale look. The black does not work on such a large building. The colours detract from the building and make it look "cheap".

  • James
    April 18, 2012 - 10:38

    Wanda I beg to differ with you. Not all seniors who live in these places are wealthy. Some of them yes, but most of them worked damn hard through their working years so they can relax in their golden years. Growing up let me tell you I as not a wealthy child, my dad worked as a truck driver and my mom was a babysitter in her own home. My dad worked for 35 years without missing a day, ya they sacrificed a lot to ensure they were not a burden on their son when they both got to retirement age. When my dad retired he got 15$ a hour that was after 35 years of work, he got no severance package from the company only his company pension. Mom babysat 2 kids and she was paid 600 a month. So please before you state that large newer senior's buildings are only for the elite and rich of society, I suggest you and anyone else, actually get your facts straight. In fact with 100% certainty I can tell you that at 1 specific seniors home that 98% are not wealthy.

  • Wanda
    April 18, 2012 - 10:19

    SCARED, your last sentence is just not so. The apartments in all those large expensive Seniors' Buildings are paid for by the tenants themselves , so obviously they are for the rich only. The ordinary citizen like myself who receives only OAS and CPP are struggling along on a daily basis just to survive. We are not all living off the backs of other people. I worked over forty years.. WELL, there are people in my apartment building that are really abusing the Social Services System and are living to the best even though they are spending most of their money from Welfare on cigarettes and beer and alcohol. They also get food from the Food Banks delivered to them. Most of them didn't work a day in their lives. What's fair....absolutely nothing, except for the wealthy, or anyone who knows how to abuse the Welfare System inside out and upside down.

    • Brett
      April 18, 2012 - 10:48

      Who are these magic "wealthy" that keep popping up in the conversations here? The only people I know who are "wealthy" have managed to live within their means for a long number of years, and built up their capital before investing. They work long hours, work through weekends, and spend a large part of the social time networking and developing their businesses. Scapegoating the wealthy isn't going to help solve the problems. The issue is about making people who are not "wealthy" "wealthier" so they can afford the things they want. That's not a bandaid-able problem.

    • Brenda
      April 18, 2012 - 12:18

      Food banks deliver? You seem to have some intimate knowledge about your neighbours' finances and background. Do you go through their garbage bags and peer through their windows when you're not passing judgement from your high horse?

    • PETER
      April 18, 2012 - 19:40

      WANDA, I have been volunteering with food banks for 20 years, and we do not deliver. I don't know where you get your information, but you should look deeper into it. Every system is abused by a few, the majority in social assistance are needy, believe me, I have worked with it for a long time. And again, we do not deliver.

  • scared
    April 18, 2012 - 08:53

    I'm single & in my 50's, been in the work force for 35 years, can't retire until I'm 67 & I'm scared to death that I'm going to end up homless. As it is I can barely afford to eat. All monies seem to be going to make seniors more comfortable on the backs of everyone else.

    • fabian connors
      April 18, 2012 - 12:56

      its a pox on their house to suggest that most of these seniors , let me tell you that as a man who just turned 60 [ can you believe the faboulas fabe connors is 60 , christ i lok 35 and feel like 16 ] anyhow back to these yahoos . look i was born in pippy park , i79 mount scio rd ., and me father stil lives there, he is only 90 , drives his car every now and then. if he din,t live there , think of the cost of friggging rent , or purchase he would . look we got the oil now so the cost of housing has gone up exponentially, it goes with the territory. i will be home in 2014, and will be looking for a rematch with dave pritchard,[ from the blackhead ] see you soon dave ,ha, ha, fabian martin august power connors....

  • Unfair taxation
    April 18, 2012 - 08:14

    My 2 unit house has 1 water line and 1 sewer line, yet I pay for two services, and to add insult, income tax on the money I must charge my tenants to recoup that cost.. Council's taxation policy adds $50 a month to the cost of an apartment just on the water bill alone. Perhaps they could explain that?

    • reality
      April 18, 2012 - 09:06

      You are being taxed on usage by 2 dwelling units, not on the amount of water lines. That tax also covers duplicate services like garbage collection. Suck it up, you are getting treated the same as every other MDU in the country.

    • Reality check
      April 18, 2012 - 12:35

      To Reality: This situation is not as clear-cut as you state. The tax model used by St. John's and many other municipalities is based on units instead of usage (probably because it is more palatable to tax someone with an apartment). However, there are many single family homes that have higher water usage than two apartment - for example an elderly couple with a student in their basement apartment. Many times these people are using the rent to supplement their fixed incomes. Why is the budget focus of the City of St. John's always revenue generation (read increased taxation) instead of cost control? I suggest Unfair Taxation should consider passing along the apartment portion of tax increases to the tenants (either have them pay their own water tax or add a clause providing for rent increases tied to property tax increases). In this way the tenants know that the landlord is not getting any richer, and the focus of the tenants' wrath is focused where it should be; with the City.

    • PETER
      April 18, 2012 - 19:36

      UNFAIR TAXATION, you are doing your income tax wrong if you are paying tax on that charge, you can deduct that tax from rental income, as well as any other expense before taxation. Get another accountant, or learn to do the tax, you are not taxed on the expense, only the income after all expenses.

  • well
    April 18, 2012 - 08:14

    leah another problem is to get an appartment will cost you a morgage payment anyway,and when it comes to Social Service recepients ,I have seen what recepients get for rent, its about time for our goverment to bring it up to the cost of living. Example I know a man that is on the system due to sickness, pays his rent , they pay for most ,not all his drugs , then have the gawl to give him 60.00 every 2 weeks to live on ,and our goverment wonders why people are hungary

  • Leah
    April 18, 2012 - 07:29

    "Affordable" half-decent apartments certainly are very scarce. Social Service recepients can get cheap rentals with everything included, but it's the little above low income working tenants that really get the blunt of finding an affordable home. Then there's the advertisements for all those very expensive Seniors' Buildings that say "Nothing but the best for our Seniors".....absolutely laughable, as well as frustrating. Try going there to fill out an application if you are not rich enough to afford one, then see how little they care about the best for our seniors. I am in my mid-sixties and not in good health and I certainly do not have "the best for our seniors" after working over thirty-five years. The bottom line is money and profit. Who really cares about anyone living below the proverty line and cannot find an apartment????