Nfld. & Labrador

How 2 men struggle to meet housing costs in a boomtown

A former oil worker says he's struggling to support himself and his teenage daughter, and a minimum wage worker says he can't afford to improve his living situation.

Rental rates have gone up by 18 per cent in the St. John's area over the past four years

Richard Hobbs drinks tea to stay warm because he can't afford to adequately heat his small apartment. (CBC )

Rental rates have gone up by 18 per cent in the St. John's area over the past four years, and that's causing many people to struggle with the costs of keeping a roof over their heads.

Ian Reid enjoyed a good salary as a Hibernia worker until a back injury sent him on a downward spiral. (CBC )

Despite the prosperity brought to the St. John's area by the offshore oil boom, the Newfoundland and Labrador government classifies one out of five people in St. John's as living on a low income, or about $30,000 per family. 

Ian Reid, a single father of a 14-year-old daughter, was an offshore labourer with Hibernia, and living what he described as the good life, until a workplace accident changed everything.

"I hurt my back," said Reid. "And once I hurt my back with the offshore, that was, it kind of went downhill from there. Spiraled downhill, moneywise, financial-wise."

Costs higher than income

In the past two years, Reid has been on workers' compensation, but it has not been enough money for him to cover rent, food and the cost of living.

He filed for bankruptcy, sold everything he could, and now, he is two months behind on his rent.

"My total income right now is $1,479, that's my total, that's counting my daughter's baby bonus that comes in," said Reid. "My rent here is $1,200, my light bill here, right now in the wintertime, is $300."

Reid said his landlord has been understanding, but he would like to charge $1,500 per month for the house Reid rents in Paradise. Reid would like to move to a cheaper place, but he does not have enough money to cover moving costs, a damage deposit, and a first month of rent.

Reid has been trying to shelter his teenage daughter from his money stresses, but he said she knows. 

"She phoned me up from school on a lunchtime. She said, 'You know, Dad,' she said, 'There's not much home right now,' she said, 'Take that PS3 you got me for my birthday and bring it down to Traders, which is the pawn shop,' " recounted Reid. "And she said, 'We'll get some money for that, and we'll be able to put some groceries in the house.' " 

Reid said his daughter has picked up a job on the weekends and often uses the money she earns for household bills and groceries. Reid said for the first time in his life, he has joined the line at a food bank.

Despite that, he said his  daughter often goes to school without any lunch.

Man struggling to live on minimum wage

Richard Hobbs has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in the centre of St. John's, but he said he can't afford to heat the entire place. He has hung blankets in doorways to keep in the heat, and he heats only one room.

Hobbs has worked at minimum wage jobs his entire life, but he said with the cost of living in the city, he has not been able to get ahead. 

"The last place I worked in was minimum wage job and I tried to put in extra time so I worked some overtime," said Hobbs. "But at the end of the week, I felt like I was short. So I had to take on another part-time job to make up the extra money that I needed just to maintain my situation."

In an attempt to get a better paying job, Hobbs has joined a worker improvement program through a community centre, but his landlord has told him his rent will go up by $75 on March 1.

"At the end of it all, I have to figure out a way to save $75 a month," said Hobbs. "To keep things as they are."

Hobbs said he keeps a strict eye on his budget. He has no cable or internet, and borrows movies from the library for entertainment. Yet, he said, he is still a regular at the food bank, and he visits soup kitchens for hot meals.

Food bank users up

Derek Winsor, the executive director at Bridges to Hope, said he saw 130 new faces at his group's food bank in 2012, and this year he said people who have joined the line have said they have come because they have had an increase in rent, and because food prices have been going up. 

Derek Winsor is the program director of Bridges to Hope, which runs a food bank and serves meals. (CBC )

Winsor said he understands what the people he works with are going through.

"Seven years ago, I was one pay cheque away from having to come to Bridges to Hope," said Winsor. "I was between jobs. I was made redundant, lost a job, being redundant, at one job, and spent almost a full year trying to, back in early 2005, find new employment."

Former oil worker worries about eviction

Meanwhile, Ian Reid, who, by his own admission, had been "living the dream", said he's now worried he will face eviction. 

"You'd be surprised how fast someone's life can down spiral," said Reid.  "It's been a long hard struggle and this struggle ain't over. That, I can tell you." 

You can hear more about the struggles facing Reid, Hobbs, and one in five residents of St. John's Monday evening on Here and Now on CBC Television.