Housing, but for whom?

Mixed signals from the House leave some in a bind with no clear answers

Ross Mair rmair@thepacket.ca
Published on March 22, 2012
Terrie Hefford-Baggs worries where she will find affordable housing that suits her disability.
Ross Mair Photo

Last Thursday, Liberal opposition critic for housing Eddie Joyce used a Government Members Motion in the House of Assembly to call for more action to address what the Liberals call a serious housing crisis in the province. 

Last Thursday, Liberal opposition critic for housing Eddie Joyce used a Government Members Motion in the House of Assembly to call for more action to address what the Liberals call a serious housing crisis in the province. 

Joyce said the Conservative Government's refusal to address the issue suggests they're not familiar with the problems Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are facing.

He also said public consultation and urgency are two things thing in need when tackling the housing issue.

"We have serious housing problems all over the province and I don't think the government is doing enough to address the serious challenges that people are facing. I think there are groups out there the government should be listening to and I am hopeful the premier will listen to these suggestions," Joyce said.

The day after Joyce's action in the house, the Governments of Canada and the province announced nearly $8.5 million to create new affordable housing throughout the province.

The investment will see 207 new affordable homes for seniors, people with low incomes and persons with disabilities.

There was no mention of where those homes would be built, but Milton resident Terrie Hefford-Baggs said she has an idea where they're going to go.

"St. John's. In the last election, when Ross Wiseman talked about so many new affordable homes being built, (NDP candidate) Vanessa Wiseman asked him where those home were being built. He refused to answer. We found out afterward they were built in St. John's," she said. 

Hefford-Baggs's mobility was compromised when in 1997 she was struck by a drunk driver in a work-related accident.

Since then she's had several surgeries, but will, ultimately, be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life within the next few years.

She still gets around with a walker, but has had her own license taken away after a recent eye surgery. She states very bluntly what she thinks politicians feel toward the disabled.

"Since I've been disabled I've realized how bad it is. Shortly after I had my accident, just trying to get help with home support and trying to get help financially. The problem, I find, is the government seem only to be for the rich. They're not for the elderly, they're not for the young and they're definitely not for the disabled."

Heffordbaggs said the problems she's having with the government are exacerbated by what's happening in the Clarenville housing market.

She said rates were once fair to those who lived on a fixed income, but now the few options that do become available leave you at the mercy of landlords.

In late December she moved into a home on Wallace's Avenue in Miltion with the goal of saying goodbye to the 16-step townhouse she was living in prior.

"I was living in the living room sleeping on the couch. It was hell," she said of the townhouse, adding it was a fair rent at $700 a month, but no longer possible to live in with her condition.

In January, she was happy in her new home, though she didn't like the draft and fact she had to cover the heating costs.

However, shortly after she moved in she received a call from Tracy Coady, who advocates on her behalf for affordable housing, notifying her the house was for sale.

Her landlord didn't even tell her. She has until June to find a new place.

"So, I'm here trying to find something affordable again, all on one level with my disability. Clarenville is not the easiest place to find a place and it's getting worse. What's the cause of it? Hebron. Because they are here, the market is going up. When Hibernia was going on it was the same problem. It's getting to ridiculous to live here," said Hefford-Baggs.

Her suggestion is that government stop putting business interests before the public and for the public to realize the problems she faces are shared by many across the province.

All it takes, she said, is for a single drunk driver or work-related injury for anyone to end up fighting for an affordable place to call home.

"It's time for government to open their eyes and realize there are people out there struggling.

"The government is telling me I have to leave where I grew up. It boils me, because they are basically saying 'too bad about you'. I went to school, I worked, but it's not my fault a drunk driver hit me."

Forty-four stories, not unlike Hefford-Baggs, have crossed the desk of Tracy Coady since last June.

She is Clarenville's only advocate for housing for those on fixed or low incomes with complex needs.

A complex need may be someone suffering from depression, someone who had to leave their home due to violence or any number of infinite scenarios that don't fit the term "normal needs."

"A lot of people now don't want to rent to people on income support," said Coady.

"Landlords, I don't know how they got the perception, think a lot of my clients are not going to pay their rent. I've had one landlord say to me, 'We don't anyone in there who is going to burn the place.'"

That kind of thinking ultimately hurts the chances of someone finding a place to live, says Coady adding that affordable housing in Clarenville is in such short supply that instances of homelessness are beginning to crop up.

"Even just to know there are people here who are homeless, I was shocked by it. Most people I think would be surprised."

Before Coady accepted the job last May, she worked in Edmonton, finding housing for adults with disabilities.

Coady said she had a tough time finding an acceptable and affordable home in this area and was shocked at the rates when something did come up.

"How ironic is this? I am here helping people who are at risk of being homeless and I thought I was going to be homeless. I pay more in Milton (for rent) than I was paying in Edmonton."

Should rents continue to go up and no solution is found with regard to affordable housing, Coady predicts the stress will leave more than a few individuals and families in a tight spot.

"I've heard from women who are currently still living in a home where there is violence because they're waiting for either a place to come up on the list for them for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing or waiting for me to find them a place that's affordable. To think there are people living in violence because they can't afford to live on their own is ridiculous."

Those kinds of problems are compounded by the lack of crisis or women's shelters in Clarenville.

She suggested rent caps as an option for a short-term fix as well as having the town set aside some of its abundant land for specific affordable housing projects.

Either way, Coady said, something has to be done soon, because more and more she's noticing it's not just those on fixed incomes who are looking to her for assistance.

"Trying to find a vacancy is hard enough, but when one does pop up, trying to find something affordable is ridiculous."

Positive results, such as not seeing a single one of her clients evicted since coming to Clarenville, have helped make it a rewarding experience, said Coady.

However, she thinks the industrial activity of Hebron and subsequent boom will ensure she fields many more calls with frustrated individuals tired of facing an always higher rent payment.

"If everything does ramp up, like some of the landlords are saying it's going to ramp up, then it's going to make my job that much more challenging.

"We're probably going to be seeing more people getting evicted. There's going to be more stress, it could lead to more mental health problems, it could lead to addictions."