NL

Here's what people are doing with $80M earmarked for affordable housing in N.L.

Two community groups, Connections for Seniors and the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, are getting into the affordable housing game with funding from the provincial government and Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.

Connections for Seniors and the Muslim Assocation get millions to build affordable rentals

A red and white sign reading 'FOR RENT' is taped to a door.
Dozens of applicants have received public funding to build affordable rentals in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Connections for Seniors and the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador are getting into the affordable housing game in St. John's, as a housing and homelessness crisis grips the province and country.

The community organizations are just two of 91 proponents getting funding from a Newfoundland and Labrador Housing program dishing out almost $80 million for affordable rental units in 51 communities across the province.

That funding was announced in November.

According to a CBC News analysis, on average the program will subsidize 130 rental units built and run by community organizations, to the tune of almost $150,000 each, while 792 rental units — constructed and operated by private businesses — will be subsidized by just over $86,000 per apartment.

Most of the $80-million fund to build affordable rentals is going to the private-sector builds, while about a quarter of the pot — $19 million — is going toward rentals that the community sector will construct.



Private sector proponents are promising to keep rent at an affordable rate for 20 years as a condition of the funding for 69 housing projects, while 14 proponents will keep the apartments affordable for 15 years. 

Meanwhile, five out of seven community sector housing projects will be affordable for 30 years and the remainder for 25 years.

Newfoundland and Labrador Housing says rents at all the units constructed will be set at rates laid out in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's annual rental market reports, which currently sets affordable rent for the privately built housing projects at a range from $665 a month to $880, depending on the size of the rental, while for community sector projected the range is between $585 and $775 a month.

Man stiting at desk in front of window talking to a reporter.
Mohamed Abdullah, the executive director of Connections for Seniors, says the housing they build will be more than just affordable homes. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

With $8.24 million in funding to make 60 rentals affordable for 30 years, Connections for Seniors will by far build the most affordable housing of any of the proponents.

Mohamed Abdullah, executive director of Connections for Seniors, says they're seeing demand for affordable housing skyrocket by up to 150 per cent and mortgage rate increases are driving up rents and making current living arrangements too expensive for some seniors. 

"We're seeing a lot of seniors that are experiencing homelessness for the first time in their life," Abdullah said.

Housing and support

The Connections for Seniors rentals will be on Alexander Street.

Abdullah says they plan to build 60 units, a mix of studio and one-bedroom accessible apartments, which he hopes will keep seniors out of care facilities and hospitals and help them stay in their own homes. 

"The idea is to just not give seniors a home, we give a home and support," said Abdullah.

He says the building residents will be checked on regularly, participate in programs that combat social isolation and offer transportation to doctors' appointments, and will have access to other amenities like a garden. 

An old warehouse sitting vacant on a residental street.
Connection for Seniors has secured $8.24 million in funding from Newfoundland and Labrador Housing to repurpose this building on Alexander Street. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

"The building is going to have a nice decent social area downstairs, a place to do their activities — watch movies, play bingo, have a coffee or even have visitors and socialize."

The building already has an elevator for accessibility and when renovated will have a laundry room on every floor, Abdullah said.

"Once we receive the funding, we'll be able to hit the ground running right away. We have the architect, we have the drawings, we have the construction lined up," he said.

WATCH I CBC's Heather Gillis learns more about the affordable housing plans for two community groups:

This is what 2 community groups will build with their share of affordable housing money

5 months ago
Duration 2:36
The private sector was rewarded with $60 million out of a total $80 million that was put up for grabs by the Newfoundland and Labrador government to build affordable housing units. The rest went to the community sector, and two of its members tell the CBC’s Heather Gillis detail the amenities their new buildings will have — including a mosque, a social room and a garden.

Abdullah says they are still working on some paperwork to submit their development application to the City of St. John's and once approved, he expects construction will take 18 to 24 months.

The perfect thing

Syed Pirzada, president of the province's Muslim association, says they're also seeing a big demand for affordable housing.

"The people coming from Syria, people coming from Afghanistan and from Ukraine, there are still a lot of people who are staying in hotels because they don't have enough housing available," Pirzada said.

The organization plans to build 20 affordable units on a 10½-acre plot of vacant land on Sugarloaf Road in the east end of St. John's, where they once hoped to build a new mosque and community centre more than a decade ago.

Man in winter coat and hat points at land with snowy trees.
Pirzada shows the vacant plot of land where the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador has secured $3.06 million to build 20 affordable housing units. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Pirzada says one extra unit will be reserved for the building's caretaker, while another one will be for residents who have guests come visit.

"We applied for it because I thought it would be the perfect thing … and the hospital is accessible and transportation is accessible, so I think it is the ideal place to to have one of the affordable housing projects," Pirzada said. 

Pirzada says they need to submit a development application to the City of St. John's. He's hesitant to put an exact timeline on when the building will be constructed in case they run into any issues with construction or the availability of materials.

"It is going to be a long process, but I hope and I believe that once the affordable housing has been approved by the City of St. John's we will not have any issues," Pirzada said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Gillis

Journalist

Heather Gillis is a journalist based in St. John's. She has been working at CBC NL since March 2020, but has been reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011. Heather has a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College and a bachelor of arts from Memorial University. You can reach her by email at Heather.Gillis@cbc.ca