Northern Labrador's housing crisis forces family to live in camper during winter

·5 min read

A family of five is rushing to winterize their camper so they can live in it through the winter, after being unable to find a place to live in Nain, the most northern community in Labrador.

Pamela Webb says after a desperate search for housing, the camper was her family's only option.

Webb's family is the latest instance of what the Nunatsiavut government is calling a housing crisis.

"It makes me feel stuck, like you don't really have much support or you don't have very many options," Webb told CBC's Labrador Morning.

Webb and her family were subletting an apartment in the community but had to move out, as the former tenants were moving back in.

We needed land developed yesterday, we needed homes built yesterday. - Tyler Edmunds

Webb works for the Nunatsiavut government and could apply for housing through Nunatsiavut as an employee, but there is no rental space available there, either.

She said her income is too high to apply for housing under the Torngat Regional Housing Association, but she does not have enough money to start building a house on a piece of land she acquired this year.

"At least we got this little camper," she said, referring to the eight-foot wide, 35-foot long trailer RV her family currently calls home.

Submitted by Pamela Webb
Submitted by Pamela Webb

Her main concern is for her three young children and how they will cope with the harsh Labrador temperatures all winter.

The camper does have water and sewer hook ups, but Webb said they're still waiting for temporary service from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, as well as an internet connection.

"We have to wait for this and wait for that, so hopefully we will have it all said and done before it gets too cold," Webb said. "That's the thing with the camper: it is not made for winters in the north."

Webb said they do have a water heater which allows them to shower, but they'll have to find some place else to do their laundry and cooking.

"We wouldn't even be where we are without family helping us out, and a lot of people don't have that."

Submitted by Pamela Webb
Submitted by Pamela Webb

As for privacy, Webb said she's kissing that goodbye.

She is hoping to start building a property next year, but due to the cost of supplies is unsure if they will be able to finish.

Webb is not considering leaving Nain, as she has family in the area and thought it would be safer for her children as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Housing issues known to government

First Minister of the Nunatsiavut government Tyler Edmunds said he is familiar with the situation that Webb and her family are in and he is hoping Nunatsiavut can make some improvements.

Edmunds said there are a number of issues that are limiting the availability of the transient housing market, including a lack of developing and allocating land, as well as the price of supplies to build a home.

"Transient housing has been something that really hasn't been developed in recent years and that is leading to a lot of issues," said Edmunds. "We have articulated the housing crisis at a number of tables.

"A very big issue for us is moving forward on land developments."

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

To combat some of the housing issues, Edmunds said their sights are set on creating a housing commission which would have a mandate to increase both social and private housing.

However, relief from the commission won't come in time to help Webb and her family out. Edmunds said he expects the commission to be fully operational by 2022.

"We are in this place now where we feel like we are getting ready, and we are ready to start this process," he said.

Edmunds said the home repair program, which started as a provincial program, has really developed; last construction season, 35 homes were repaired under that program, he said, and this season there were 23 homes slated for repairs.

Nunatsiavut's hands have previously been tied when it comes to running housing programs, Edmunds said, as they have been allocating about $2.7 million to Torngat Regional Housing Association (TRHA) to build homes and put people in them.

With the new housing commission, Nunatsiavut will stop giving funding to the non-profit next year.

CBC
CBC

As a response, the independent TRHA gave ownership of 300 homes to the tenants that were living in them, citing the decision as the fairest way to remove itself from managing social housing on Labrador's north coast.

At the time, Nunatsiavut said it was blindsided by the TRHA decision, and officials weren't sure why those public assets were to be signed over to private beneficiaries. But the TRHA said it had given ample opportunity for the government to weigh in.

Edmunds said Nunatsiavut is currently in discussions with TRHA about what may transpire next year, but the current plan of action is unclear.

CBC News reached out to the chair of the TRHA, Margaret Fox, for updates on how the transfer will go. However, she said she is not interested in commenting.

Edmunds said it is a long road to make sure all residents have a safe roof over their head, but Nunatsiavut will continue moving forward.

"It's been a long process for us," he said.

"We needed land developed yesterday, we needed homes built yesterday, we needed multiplexes built yesterday."

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