Nfld. & Labrador

Announcement of vacancies in St. John's affordable housing met with flood of applications

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says as soon as the city revealed a 19 per cent vacancy rate, the inquiries started rolling in.

City of St. John's announces grants to groups working on housing innovations

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says city council is 'reaching our target of families who are certainly in the housing crunch.' (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

After announcing last week that 19 per cent of its affordable housing units were vacant, the City of St. John's says it received more than 100 applications for them.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary said as soon as the city made the announcement, the applications — as well as inquiries — started rolling in.

"As soon as we put out the call and made sure that the public knew, we had 100 applications come in, and inquiries beyond that as well," O'Leary said.

"We seem to be reaching our target of families who are certainly in the housing crunch, and it is also apparent that not everyone knows that the City of St. John's has affordable housing."

This news comes with the city's announcement on Monday that $60,000 in grants has been awarded to seven local affordable housing groups.

Affordable housing was a topic of discussion at St. John's city council's weekly meeting Monday. (Stephen Miller/CBC)

"We basically are putting out $60,000 in grants to a really diverse community of organizations to try to enhance affordable living," said O'Leary.

The grant, called the Housing Catalyst Fund, saw recipients get between $5,000 and $10,000 each. The organizations are:

  • Fundamental, which aims to build a tiny home in St. John's using a shipping container as a demonstration of modular construction.

  • Power Brothers, a group dedicated to making affordable housing more accessible through retrofitting properties.

  • Stella's Circle, which owns 79 supportive housing units in St. John's and is looking to expand.

  • L'Arche Avalon, a group constructing two homes and a day centre for adults with intellectual disabilities. 

  • Connections for Seniors, a needs assessment service for older applicants of affordable housing.

  • NL Gray Gays, a group working to serve older members of the LGBT community.

  • Universal Design Network, a design education group.

Affordable housing is in demand

Sheldon Pollett, executive director of Choices for Youth, says affordable housing is a 'long-term solution.' (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Sheldon Pollett, executive director of Choices for Youth, a resource centre and shelter in St. John's, said the demand for places to stay for young people has gone up in recent years, despite the youth population dwindling.

In 2008, a study showed that his organization worked with 454 young people over a three-year period. Those numbers have more than doubled in recent years.

"As of last year, we worked with over 1,600 young people in one year," he said. "That's a red flag for our province and certainly for our community."

He said there's a shortage of affordable housing.

"We know, community and government alike knows, we don't have enough safe, affordable housing options for individuals in the community," he said.

Pollett said the city's been co-operating with him for years, but crisis shelters like the ones his organization offers are less important than the long-term solution of affordable housing.

These are affordable housing units in St. John's. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

"We've turned away more young people every year than we've taken in, because their beds are full," he said.

"So clearly … the answer is not putting more money into a crisis system. It's really putting more money into a long-term solution, which is affordable housing."

He said he thinks high turnover rates may be partly responsible for the vacancy rates announced by the city last week, and he believes the city is moving in the right direction.

"I think the good news is that the city is identifying it, and trying to move forward."

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About the Author

Noah Laybolt is a freelance journalist in St. John's.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show