Has the issue of affordable housing improved? That depends on your perspective. The quality of the housing available to all segments of society is a measure of the inequalities that exist in society. A lack of low-rental accommodation remains in St. John’s.
The removal of slum housing was seen as a positive step in some quarters. Families from the central core who moved into public housing with their social network intact experienced an improvement. However, some labourers found that the location of the new housing made it difficult for them to get to work, and their children to get to school. Other families found themselves moving from several rooms in a dilapidated house into one room in a somewhat less dilapidated house. The building of affordable dwellings rarely kept up with the demand as the slum housing was demolished.
The filtering process imagined by the planners did not quite work out. Much of the remaining housing was broken into small flats and overcrowding continued. Many householders took in boarders as their personal solution to affordability. During the 1970s and 1980s, the upgrading of this housing removed what was for many the last stop before homelessness. Homelessness in St. John’s has been increasing steadily since the 1980s. In 2011 there are estimates of 1200 homeless individuals in the city.
The public housing stock is now old and is becoming expensive to maintain. During the past few years, many neighbourhoods have seen the demolition of buildings considered too dilapidated to repair. The demographics have also changed. In 2011, families are smaller and more singles are in need of housing. Most new applicants are looking for one or two bedroom dwellings, not three or four bedrooms. As the population ages, the demand for wheel-chair accessibility will continue to increase.
Up until the mid 1970s there appeared to be a public commitment to affordable housing for low income families. Today, the problem has disappeared from the public’s attention. As the number of families and individuals in need of affordable housing is continually increasing, this issue will resurface. The solution will have to take into account the views and experiences of those in need themselves. Their insights, their capacities, their experiences must be called upon in the search for a better solution.
I should clarify that I grew up up there and left in 1968 – I was 8 years old when I left to come to Toronto. We had no running water most of the time. No heat other than a stove. The door lock didn’t work much. Our coal shoot was always being raided and coal stolen. Our clothes on the clothes line were always stolen. My dogs were tortured and mutilated and burned by sick individuals. I had to face viciious and savage older kids running around with rocks and axes every day. There was religious bigotry. Your toys were stolen if you didn’t hang onto them physically, even if you did, you were robbed in your own hallway, and worse. Drinking heavily was common. It was awful for kids, Police were not trusted and were reviled as they were heavy handed and heavily beat the kids from our neighbourhood. I think we would have been better off being dispersed around in houses here and there rather than bringing everyone with all the same problems into one tiny little area. I have life-long issues from growing up there.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about my old neighbourhood. It was a horror and terrifying to grow up there as a child. Your article showed you did a lot of research and hit on some issues that haunted people at the time. It would be great if you could follow up and find out how living and growing up in that neighbourhood had effected the people. I grew up in the Cinder Block buildings off of froud Ave. I remember my address was 8 Westmount, Ebsary Estate, St. John’s, Apt. # ??, I lived in the upper floor apartment. I could tell you stories if you were interested.
Memories of this place still haunt me. My brother died because of living there. All my siblings were sent on a terrible trajectory and others that I know from there all had serious issues. Died young, mental health, trauma, ptsd, addiction, alcoholism, marital problems. It was no place for people to live. It was a cruel social experiment.