Woman caught in affordable-housing crunch

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Has spent more than a year looking for another apartment

Michelle Laidley holds up a treat for her cat, Tank, who gives her a high-five with his paw.

Michelle Laidley gets her cat, Tank, to do a trick for a treat. Laidley is desperate to find an apartment that she can afford and that will accommodate Tank, who is a therapy animal.

The six-year-old cat is Laidley’s therapy animal for post-traumatic stress disorder, which she says she acquired after years in foster care.

The east-end St. John’s woman said she relies on Tank, but getting potential landlords to understand that is trying. They aren’t exactly welcoming to income-support clients or animals, she said.

Laidley has been looking for a year and a half for an affordable apartment where Tank is also accepted.

She was given notice to be out of her basement apartment by April, but began looking long before, when the house was put up for sale a year and a half ago.

The new owner of the home wanted to inspect her apartment once a month, and while Laidley agreed, she said she was soon given an eviction notice.

“Ever since a year and a half I have been looking and looking and looking for a place to live. I knew inevitably it was going to happen.

“You got that gut feeling. I’ve got six weeks left and I’m so stressed,” Laidley said of the apartment search.

She plans to request a letter from her doctor to verify Tank’s importance to her well-being.

“I have had him for six years, he’s excellent help and doesn’t destroy anything,” Laidley said of Tank. “He’s a really good cat.”

The search so far hasn’t produced any good leads. She said she is now left with $182 every two weeks once her income support pays for $550 in rent and roughly $300 for electricity. Out of the remainder comes food, transportation and other necessities.

She hopes to find something around $650 per month plus utilities, with some laundry facilities, and still that will stretch her budget.

“There is something seriously wrong here and the government, as usual, is at fault,” Laidley said.

“They won’t cap rental prices. They let everybody go to hell with it.”

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., a federal Crown agency, the overall apartment vacancy rate in St. John’s is 3.2 per cent, while the vacancy rate for a one-bedroom is 2.4 per cent. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $739 plus utilities.


Difficult challenge

Gail Thornhill, acting executive director of Stella Burry Corp., a non-profit that offers community support services, said the recent vacancy rate increase is positive, but not significant enough to affect the challenge that people on low incomes have in finding a apartment.

Slightly higher vacancy rates give a little wiggle room in what’s available, but not in rent amounts, especially for those who are on income support.

“It’s not a secret that the current income support rates are not adequate for the current rental market. They are not,” Thornhill said.

“That increase in the vacancy rate has not had a ripple effect or a big impact on the vulnerable people that we work with every day, not yet. We would need to see a higher vacancy rate than that.”

She said the metro area remains a landlord’s market. Many are stipulating no pets, but some are stipulating no children and no income-support clients, and some are seeking criminal record checks, she said.

Stella Burry operates a housing resource centre and operates about 100 housing units, with some units owned by the organization and others through agreements with private landlords, but there is a wait list.



Organizations: Canada Mortgage and Housing, Crown agency, Stella Burry

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Recent comments

    February 13, 2014 - 13:14

    I am an educated female in my mid 20's, I went to school, had student loans, and am now responsible for paying those back, although I was unsuccesfull in finding a high paying job in my trade, that is quite difficult for me. I pay for rent & bills just like everyone else is responsible for doing. Although i do agree that the cost of rent is outrageous in this province now, I dont agree with someone who is on social assitance who has the government paying her rent and bills, and still complaining about affordable places to live. I work two minimum wage jobs and i barely scrape by.. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.. but i would LOVE if my electicity bill & rent was paid for me. I work and i dont even have "$182.00" for 2 wks. like the woman in this story has. I do agree rent should have a cap in this province, but i also believe there should be more resources for the people in this province that work and earn wages and STILL cant afford to pay the cost of living here !

  • lyly
    February 13, 2014 - 08:58

    Even for people who can afford a more expensive apartment, it is getting harder and harder to find places allowing pets. It has become completely ridiculous. All good pet owners can provide references from their previous landlords but it does not seem to make a difference. I am so happy to have my own little house because it seems that no pets/no kids is the new trend...very sad society we are becoming...

  • R king
    February 13, 2014 - 08:50

    The funny thing is she a single women with a cat and gets 182$ every two weeks. I'm a mother of 3 and I get 189$ every two weeks HOW is this right.

  • viciouscycle
    February 13, 2014 - 07:34

    We're homeowners/ landlords and we rent well below the average and allow pets without making a dime, despite enormous housing costs. But we feel good about it at the end of the day. We've met some awesome tenants and maintain good relationships with them. Homeowners and landlords need to help out, including opening up to complete strangers. It's critical to help at a time like this where gov't provides nothing and society stomps on those who are already down.

  • Yes by
    February 13, 2014 - 06:49

    Stipulating No income support??? Isn't that prejudice??