Hunting for housing: Labrador family spends months in hotels looking for a place to call home

·3 min read
Renatus Semigak says she is excited for here children to be able to play outside again. (Submitted by Renatus Semigak - image credit)
Renatus Semigak says she is excited for here children to be able to play outside again. (Submitted by Renatus Semigak - image credit)
Renatus Semigak says she is excited for here children to be able to play outside again.
Renatus Semigak says she is excited for here children to be able to play outside again.(Submitted by Renatus Semigak)

It's been seven long months without a home for Renatus Semigak and her family. From hotels to temporary social housing and back to more hotels, there has been more moving and uncertainly than anyone would ever hope for.

This week, finally, they have a place to call home.

"Having a call saying that we do have a place, like really lifted me," she told CBC News. "Today, I just, I'm just happy that soon we'll be able to move in and have our own place to call home and be able to settle in and be a family, a proper family."

Since October, Semigak and her three children — all under 10, and she's expecting a fourth — had been moving between hotels in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, looking for a place to call home. They had been staying with her partner's family, but left because there wasn't enough room for everyone.

They bounced from hotel to hotel for the next several months. She says she had to pull her oldest child out of his Grade 4 classes.

"Moving from hotel to hotel [is not] stable for him to go to school."

It wasn't just her oldest child who was affected by all the moving. Semigak says her children don't have the same freedoms they would in their own home.

"Being in hotels, there's just so much vehicles around, they can't play outside. Not like when we move in our own place, I know they can play outside."

Renatus Semigak stands outside Emma’s Suites, one of three hotels she and her family have stayed in since October.
Renatus Semigak stands outside Emma’s Suites, one of three hotels she and her family have stayed in since October.(Regan Burden/CBC)

Lack of available public housing is not the only factor that kept the family from moving into a place of their own; Semigak says she searched Facebook, contacted private landlords and looked everywhere she could think looking for a place to rent, but the rent was "very, very high."

Semigak, whose only income is social assistance and child tax credit says she can't afford the monthly rents of $1,500-$2,000 a month common in the area. She says the cost of staying in the hotels was covered by the Innu Round Table Secretariat, a collective organization that includes the Innu Nation, Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation and Mushua Innu First Nation and does work with income support, prevention services, justice and policing.

Now, though she and her family have been assigned to a house with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and started moving in on Tuesday.

But Semigak and her family weren't the only ones on a wait-list for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. John Abbott, minister responsible for the corporation, says the demand exceeds the supply of the housing units right across the province. Labrador, though, has a growing population of young families, said Abbott, and there are nearly 100 people on the waiting list.

New provincial housing plan

Abbott says that a new three-year housing action plan the province is planning to provide rent supplements and use the private market to expand access to housing. It's not as simple as moving someone into a vacant house, he said; those houses need repairs, and a short construction season in Labrador can contribute to delays in getting a place ready for a new family.

"We want to be very careful that when people enter those units to live there as a family that they are secure and meet the standards that we would expect of any one of us in the community," Abbott said.

Abbot says the objective is to reach a time when the wait-lists don't exist.

"We go through cycles and the cycle we're at now, the demand is exceeding the supply and we're working diligently to bring that supply up as quickly as possible," he said.

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