July 19, 2022 (St. John’s, NL) – Choices for Youth (CFY) in partnership with the Otter Housing Association (OHA) hosted a virtual discussion on affordable housing in rural and remote Newfoundland and Labrador (NL). Co-led by Yorabode’s Emily Campbell, a design charette encouraged public dialogue on the effects that a lack of affordable housing is having on rural communities in the province.
Applying a Housing First approach, CFY and OHA recognize that having access to safe, affordable housing is a basic human right, and with the current housing crisis in the province, many residents are being forced to choose between vital medical care, heating their home, and having enough food to eat. The high rate of housing needs is hitting rural communities the hardest, with almost 63.5% of the homeless population in St. John’s moving from other regions of the province, and a staggering 57% permanently moving to the capital within the last 5 years (according to a 2018 Point in Time Count). There is a clear indication that there is a need for supports, interventions and opportunities closer to home in rural Newfoundland and Labrador – numbers such as these contributed to the development of the Otter Housing Association.
The Otter Housing Association (OHA) was founded and incorporated in Fall 2021 as one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier housing associations that address homelessness within a rural context. Through the leadership of five directors, a Community Project Coordinator, and many supportive community members, the OHA is promoting access to green affordable housing in rural NL through housing planning, development, construction and operations. “We [OHA] recognize and experience the housing barriers in rural Newfoundland, especially in tourism-driven communities like Port Rexton. There is a shortage of long-term rentals and lack of winterized homes. These shortages accompanied with high market-value properties make it nearly impossible to live here year-round. OHA acknowledges that a sustainable and prosperous community begins with affordable and attainable housing”
The Design Charette
Emily Campbell of Yorabode, developed the design charette with the goal of co-designing several units of affordable housing in the Port Rexton region. The charette hosted participants, with many interested in living in the newly designed affordable housing units. Concerns were voiced over the current housing crisis in the Port Rexton region, particularly that the number of vacation rentals outnumbers the current housing stock – leaving residents without affordable housing options.
“With the rest and success of our [Newfoundland’s] tourism sector, many landlords are choosing to convert affordable housing to Airbnb’s” voiced one participants “[This] is great for the landlord, but in regions with a limited inventory of rental properties, this can be absolutely detrimental.”
Rural communities in NL have encountered numerous economic shifts over the past three decades, contributing to an ebb and flow of affordable housing options. “Education surrounding the need for affordable housing and how it maintains the economy is a big gap” voiced a participant. The barriers to accessing affordable housing are also due to a lack of purpose-built housing in NL. Many homes in rural communities have 3+ bedrooms and unreasonably high utility bills due to poor insulation and oil heating. These options are unaffordable for a single person, young person, single parent, or a senior.
What the Conversation Tells Us
Current co-operative models across the country such as The 12 Neighbours Community project indicate that when we provide wrap-around supports, we get wrap-around results. By establishing collaboration between community agencies such as CFY and OHA and folks with lived experience, we can co-create affordable housing solutions that ultimately impact the well-being of individuals and the community that supports them.
A participant of the design charette shared their professional experience with homelessness and the issues of marginalization in Ontario, “the more involved the community entities were [churches, schools, non-profits, for-profits], the more the measurement of success could be seen”, that participant stated “especially when paired with testimony from the person with lived experience who benefited but could also identify the system gaps.”
We heard a clear message from those who attended the charette that the current barriers to affordable housing are ones that can be improved when regulations, education and funding are in place.
We’re Calling on Decision Makers
While much of the conversation is focused on housing and affordability in urban regions, we can’t lose sight of the unique needs of rural and remote communities in our province. Decision makers have an opportunity to reinvest in the future of our communities and advocate for our neighbours – fostering a province that both facilitates economic development and supports current, and future residents. Strengthening communities in rural Newfoundland is a vital component of ensuring that residents can continue to call these places home.
By collaborating with community agencies such as the Otter Housing Association, government can work towards housing solutions that meet the unique needs of various regions the province. With the support of funding and regulations for developers and landlords, we have an opportunity to foster communities that provide the infrastructure and support for current and future residents, while prioritizing current economic development.
The Otter Housing Association will be taking the results of the design charette to funders in the coming months with the goal of working towards the development of several units of affordable housing that have been co-designed with future residents.
For media inquiries, please contact:
Community Project Coordinator
Otter Housing Association
Manager of Fund Development and Communications