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.