Growing number of St. John’s seniors falling victim to renovictions, says housing advocate

Doug Pawson, the executive director of End Homelessness St. John’s, has been on the front lines as the housing problem in Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city has grown into a crisis.

In his role, he can see trends coming before the general public takes notice, and he’s sounding the alarm on one that affects senior citizens.

His organization is hearing from a growing number of seniors who are losing their homes to “renovictions” — the act of evicting a tenant, then renovating the space and renting it out at a higher price.

“One of the biggest trends we’re seeing are seniors who are now at risk of losing their homes because there’s an unfettered private rental market with very little incentive to preserve and maintain affordable housing,” Pawson said Tuesday.

“We’re seeing a lot of folks facing eviction because at any point a person can be evicted with three months’ notice, and there’s no controls on the rent or the future rents for those units.”

Renovictions have been a growing problem in many major cities across Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, a landlord must give six months’ notice before increasing the rent. They can evict a tenant within three months, however, and immediately raise the rent when the unit is listed again.

The province does not have legislation that directly addresses renovictions.

“Without that check and balance as part of provincial regulation, that trend is going to continue, and right now we’re seeing it most acutely with seniors,” Pawson said.

About one-third of referrals to End Homelessness St. John’s now involve seniors, Pawson said.

“That number is skyrocketing, and I’m really concerned about what that’s going to look like into the winter months.”

About a dozen homeless protestors have pitched tents on a field across the street from Confederation Building in St. John’s. They say they won’t leave until they find safe and affordable housing. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Encampment protest continues

The province is dealing with an unprecedented housing crunch, as evidenced by a homeless encampment across from Confederation Building in St. John’s.

The people sleeping there — each of them experiencing homelessness — say they chose the location as a protest. They told CBC News they don’t want to be housed in shelters, and won’t leave until they find safe and affordable housing.

Pawson said the protest highlights “the fragmentation of the system” and the lack of easy answers to homelessness.

“Just as there’s no one pathway into homelessness, there’s no one pathway out.”

Laura Winters, CEO of Stella’s Circle, said the protesters were taking a stand because their “basic human right has been denied.”

A woman with curly hair and a blue t-shirt stands in front of a purple Stella's Circle banner.
Laura Winters, chief executive officer of Stella’s Circle, says all government departments need to work together to combat homelessness. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Winters has also been on the front lines as the housing problem has intensified — and exploded — throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Stella’s Circle helped 134 people move into permanent housing last year through the Brian Martin Housing Resource Centre.

They also housed 84 women at the Naomi Centre, up from 66 in the previous year. Winters said the average length of stay nearly doubled, signalling the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the city.

She said it’s vital that the government provide not just a roof and walls but also support for those who have difficulty finding housing. That’s where partnerships come in.

“Many folks need a roof over their heads. Many others need supports to stay housed,” she said.

Pawson and Winters agreed government needs to take an all-party, all-departments approach to housing. 

“This won’t be solved by Newfoundland and Labrador Housing,” Pawson said. “This needs the attention of every department.”

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