When apprentice electrician Jason Dyke moved to St. John’s in April with his pregnant spouse, Lisa Collins, he thought he’d be able to save money to rent an apartment.
But months later, and with newborn twins, the couple still have no place of their own.
They are pretty much couch-surfing — sleeping on an air mattress in the basement apartment rented by Lisa Collins’ older daughter.
Before the twins’ premature birth, Dyke, who is from Centreville, was boarding with a relative, but there wasn’t room for more in that household.
Meanwhile, Collins’ teenage daughter is back in Dover, in central Newfoundland, still waiting for the couple to find a place so she can begin school here.
“The plan was I was going to come in ahead of (Lisa) and try to save up some money and look for a place to rent,” Dyke said, as the two-week-old twins, Ava and Carter, napped in their bouncy seats.
But searching the apartment ads, they found out the rents in the metro were way beyond their means.
Collins wasn’t working prior to the babies’ birth and as a third-year apprentice, Dyke makes $20 an hour before taxes. He also pays child support for the daughter he has from a previous relationship.
“For us to live in here, it would take two of my paycheques,” Dyke said, adding that the $1,200-$1,400 that most landlords are asking for a three-bedroom place does not include utilities.
Besides shelter, the family needs food, transportation and double the baby supplies, such as diapers.
If they had to pay for child care, they’d be shelling out several hundred dollars for that.
With a damage deposit, he said, he’d need $2,000 just to move in.
“We can’t afford to pay $1,000, let alone $1,300 or $1,400 a month plus utilities. It’s too much,” Dyke said.
“The (federal) government is trying to cut unemployment, so they are saying, ‘Move to the bigger centres.’ I’m trying to move to a bigger centre, but I’m not going to move in here and take half the year’s wages just for rent — that’s crazy.”
“We came across a couple (of places) that were $800-$900, but the minute they hit the Internet, it’s like bang! Somebody’s got them,” Dyke said.
Dyke said the couple applied for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and came within the threshold, but he has no idea how long it would take to get a unit.
“The other op-tion soon is to have to do the driving-back-and-forth bit (to central Newfoundland on weekends). It does cost money for me to be driving back and forth; that, or quit and find another job or something,” Dyke said.
He said he hasn’t been working long enough at his job to be considered fora mortgage, nor would the cost of rent allow him to save up for a downpayment.
“If I was in here making minimum wage, I don’t think I would be able to survive. We’re basically going to be borderline struggling on what I am earning now,” Dyke said.
While Collins’ daughter and her boyfriend have welcomed them into their home, Dyke said he feels bad and worries that when the babies wake their parents at night they are waking the other couple, too.
“It’s their place and the two babies (wake up) screaming at nighttime. I feel like we are burdening them. They say it’s fine and everything, but I feel like that,” Dyke said.
Work must provide accreditation
To find something closer to Dover could mean work in another field, to the jeopardy of Dyke eventually obtaining his journeyman’s ticket.
“I could have taken jobs doing receiving, but that’s not going to help me,” Dyke said.
NDP housing critic Gerry Rogers said Dyke and Collins are the poster family for metro’s housing crisis.
“They are the epitome of the housing crunch,” Rogers said.
She noted the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. advises a maximum of 30 per cent of household income be spent on shelter and said that’s unattainable for many, given metro’s real estate and rental prices.
The cost of housing leaves many families with little for emergencies, food, clothing, school supplies and transportation, Rogers said.
“Things like holidays and movies are totally out of the question,” she added.
“A number of constituents who call are in a housing crisis. Government is saying there’s not a housing crisis. I don’t accept that.”
Rogers said people moving in from rural areas for jobs, and seniors moving in for services, are caught in the crunch.
For couples like Collins and Dyke, facing high rents makes it an even harder scramble to save for a house.
“We know that if people are able to buy homes, it builds up family wealth,” Rogers said.
“But first-time homebuyers have a hell of a time.”
She cited not only high prices, but the tightened rules for obtaining a mortgage and the expense of closing costs.
Rogers said Newfoundland and Labrador, like some other provinces, needs a program to assist people with home ownership.
She also advocates considering rent stabilization and a plan for affordable housing.
Rogers said when the government sells off Crown land to developers, there’s no guarantee there will be affordable housing built there, as smaller units don’t necessarily translate to manageable prices.
And she said, the government shouldn’t be selling land anywhere in the province until it comes up with a housing plan.
“It’s so important that municipal governments have to work together, and private industry, to look at building affordable housing,” Rogers said.
“Incomes are not going up as fast as the cost of living, or as fast as the increase of the cost of shelter. Shelter is not a privilege. It’s a right, a necessity.”