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Making affordable housing an issue in the provincial election


Home is where the heart is.

Kevin Curley Photo/TC Media
An affordable home being built in Clarenville, just one of many initiatives in the town to combat to the problem.

Home Sweet Home.

There’s no place like home.

There’s no end to the idioms about home — and for good reason.

Where we live is part of our identity, and it’s where we spend much of our lives.

But for those struggling to find an affordable place, not having somewhere to call home can throw lives into turmoil.

The topic of having a roof over your head is on some voters’ minds as the election looms.

Data from 2012 says there were more than 5,500 homeless people around the province. Included are those in shelters and the more than 3,700 deemed the hidden homeless — those shifting between friends and relatives.

And homelessness among youth is far worse in St. John’s than the national average.

Some 30 per cent of the city’s homeless population is youth compared to the national average of 20 per cent.

Last year, Choices for Youth served 1,000 homeless youth in the capital city and it’s on track to exceed that again this year.

Three years ago, the agency served 600 young people in one year.

“The numbers we are seeing are going up and up and up,” says executive director Sheldon Pollett.

On the Burin Peninsula, some are concerned that affordable housing is affecting the most vulnerable, like seniors.

 “The latest piece of business is how government is going to allow people the opportunity to maintain a certain lifestyle while holding on to some of the funds and money they had put away for retirement or whatever that case may be,” says John Baker of Marystown.

“My opinion right now is that people who go into shared housing, subsidized, and seniors housing, have to give up whatever it is they have in terms of money to afford to go into those places.”

In Clarenville, affordable housing has been a concern since the town boomed between 2006 and 2011.

Many initiatives have resulted, including a special mayor’s committee, a Habitat for Humanity build, and a church organization applying for a forgivable loan to build rental units.

 

Rod Murphy, a realtor with Remax in Clarenville, says affordable housing has seen some alleviation through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing’s down payment assistance program — $5,000 to first-time buyers and 10 years to pay it back.

 “It’s a very low payment, and it’s all based on your income. There’s a threshold of $60,000 a year is the maximum you can make,” says Murphy.

But, Murphy says, the problem is that people can’t qualify for mortgage.

Back in St. John’s, Bruce Pearce is excited to fight homelessness, but acknowledges the challenge.

He’s with the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness and applauds recently announced intentions to develop a provincial plan.

“These are firsts in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history,” Pearce says. ‘For the first time in our history, we have a community — St. John’s — with a plan to end homelessness and a set of tools to get us there. We don’t have everything. We need the gas tank.”

The group aims to end chronic homelessness in the city by 2019 — reducing shelter stays to seven days or less. It has raised $4.5 million of its $9 million goal.

Like other advocates, Pollett is hoping for a post-election strategy on youth homelessness.

The parties have already indicated support and announced platforms on mental health and addictions — all areas that contribute to homelessness. Pollett says that’s fantastic, but he wants to hear a firm commitment.

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