The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is hoping the federal government will reconsider its rejection of an application for a portion of a $1-billion program to build new affordable housing units.
The lack of affordable housing in the Labrador town has long been a problem, with homelessness an ongoing challenge paired with a lack of emergency housing for low-income people.
Brenna Jarrar, the director of community development and research for Happy Valley-Goose Bay, says the town had hoped to avail of a pot of money made available in the rapid housing initiative through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The initiative was a $1-billion competition, Jarrar said, with half set aside for big cities across Canada, like Toronto and Vancouver. The remaining $500 million was for other projects in across the country.
We were asking for funding up against big cities like Toronto, and so if you're gonna set us against Toronto we're never going to win. - Brenna Jarrar
"We were asking for just over $7 million for our initiative, which was to build 25 units of one-bedroom housing," Jarrar said.
Those units would help address a housing crisis in the community, Jarrar said, which has been experiencing a lack of affordable accommodations for a number of years.
"As we know, from speaking with our partners in the provincial government and from people on the ground here in our community, the biggest need is for single adults or couples without children," she said, adding that public housing options for families also don't meet the demand.
"We do not have any one-bedroom housing that is available specifically for people who live on their own or with just one other adult, so this is a huge gap and it's something that urgently needs to be addressed."
Jarrar said even though a $500-million pot may seem like a huge amount of money on the table, it's not that much when considering the need across the country.
"From the get-go, this was not really a sufficient amount of money given the demand, but it was set to be money that was going to modular housing, so that's new builds or renovations on existing properties, specifically targeting low-income residents who are priced out of market."
While Jarrar felt the town had made a good case for the need of affordable units in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, their application was rejected.
'Tremendous amount of demand'
Applications were judged on a points-based system, Jarrar said, and the town was told that it lost a lot of points by not being able to bring its own funding to the table, and instead seeking 100 per cent of the funding for the units.
Another mark against the town was its comparatively low population density compared with other communities in Canada that applied, she said.
"Of course that makes sense when you consider how little money was actually on the table, that of course big communities are going to be prioritized because it will hit the most people. However, what we are asking is that this could have been addressed from the beginning and they ought to have known that there was going to be a tremendous amount of demand," Jarrar said.
There are other considerations that the federal government should be taking into account, such as the high proportion of Indigenous homelessness and what they owe to the communities of Labrador. - Brenna Jarrar
"This was really the first big federal initiative to build public housing in several decades, so there was going to be a lot of competition, and we were asking for funding up against big cities like Toronto, and so if you're gonna set us against Toronto we're never going to win."
Regions like Labrador have specific circumstances that Jarrar says should be a reason for the federal government to reconsider, and set aside some funding specifically for smaller communities.
"Population density in a place like Labrador shouldn't be the only consideration.… There are other considerations that the federal government should be taking into account, such as the high proportion of Indigenous homelessness and what they owe to the communities of Labrador," Jarrar said.
Mayor Wally Andersen said the rejection was "very disappointing," and there is no doubt there is a dire need for affordable housing units to help address homelessness in the town.
"Whether you have 500 people in Toronto or 30 in Labrador in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the need is the same. These people are looking for the same help and are reaching out for help," Andersen said.
The town has written to the federal government asking them to reconsider the rejection, and Andersen said they are also going to be getting in touch with Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, as well as Seamus O'Regan, to try to make their case for more funding to be allocated in the federal budget next month.
"We've got different people out here with different needs, and with affordable housing also too can come a lot of programming to help people. But affordable housing is something that people need, and the need is there for people who are trying to make a start in life," Andersen said.
Andersen said for people on government programs, "it's pretty hard for them to afford a place," and the whole application process is about providing people "with something that they can call home."
"So we'll continue to fight," Andersen said. "I think our council will give them every reason to consider changes to the structure they have in place right now."