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Housing woes

Red hot sellers market and few rental units means fierce competition

Port aux Basques was experiencing a shortage of rental properties even before Hurricane Fiona destroyed over 100 homes along the Southwest Coast. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — Even before Hurricane Fiona ravaged the Southwest coast, Port aux Basques was dealing with a lack of available housing for residents, and since then, even more people are looking for new accommodations. It’s not just houses that are difficult to get into, but rental properties as well, and some landlords are even opting to avail of the larger profit margins and sell homes that were previously utilized as rental properties, which only serves to exacerbate the problem. “I have had individuals reach out with housing challenges and they’re more pronounced than ever with the shortage of supply and the huge demand, but it’s hard to get involved when there’s legislation, the Landlord Tenant Act, so landlords or homeowners have the right, so long as they follow the law and protections given to tenants, and as long as the law is followed it’s very difficult,” said MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile). Under that agreement, the landlord can terminate the lease by serving the tenant with the proper notice, usually a term of not less than three months. “Right now, one of my concentrations is on ensuring that we continue to move towards availability of housing options,” said Parsons. “The Town itself had a consultant look at their various existing options in Port aux Basques. The consultant is working on it with the town, and I know that there is a fair amount of interest both in the possible development, as well as we know demand will not be an issue.” The search for housing is readily apparent through the number of daily social media posts by residents about to become homeless once their notice period is up. Some of these posts are by single mothers with small children, and who don’t always have family in the area to turn to for emergency support. “This is something we’ve been talking about, and it obviously requires some due diligence, but everybody knows there’s people waiting who will form wait lists to get into these spots.” During the Town council meeting on Feb. 14, councillors voted in a motion to hire consulting services to look into immediate housing in the area, but they have done more since then to try to deal with the housing situation. As a result of the increase in demand, the Town has been readying plots of lands for development in the Grand Bay West subdivision, and has already held a land lot lottery for those interested in building new homes. “We have a serious housing crisis, no doubt. We’re trying to take steps, whether it’s the amendments to our town municipal plan to allow some buildings to be able to be transferred into apartment complexes to help, we’ve made steps and that is moving forward,” said Mayor Brian Button. “We’re trying to move on the subdivision pieces, trying to get that geared up and ready to go since spring is approaching.” Despite all of that, Parsons cautions that this isn’t something that will be fixed immediately. “Apartment housing specifically and housing generally has been an issue. It was something that I was working on with the College of the North Atlantic and the town pre-Fiona, because it is one of the issues when it comes to increasing registration on campus in Port aux Basques,” said Parsons. “Fiona has just completely exacerbated what was already a situation. Now it’s perilous at times for people. There are so many people looking for houses, it’s affected the market, it’s affected availability, and it is having an effect on specific family situations.” The competition to find new housing was fierce before the hurricane, particularly for people with pets or mobility issues. The hurricane destroyed over 100 homes, and even more in the yet-to-be-finalized danger zone will likely be offered buy out options to prevent a re-occurrence. “People lost everything they have through Fiona, and then there are other instances where homes have been coming up for sale and in some cases people were the renters in those homes and now they find themselves out looking for a home because they don’t have a place to live,” said Button. “Fiona impacted and affected people on the spot and then there are others who weren’t affected by the storm as such, but they find themselves a part of it as well because they are finding themselves homeless, being evicted from their places because the home has been sold to someone else. It’s very serious when you’re trying to find homes for everybody else and they just aren’t there.” Realtor Scott Strickland has kept a close eye on the housing market, which has been affected by both COVID and Fiona. “Actually, the housing market was quite strong in Port aux Basques for a couple of years basically due to COVID and some low interest rates. The Ontario market especially, when that was hot, people were really cashing in on their homes out there and they were looking for retirement properties, downsizers, more affordable housing, so Newfoundland was the place to come and we had a lot of people from out of province, from places like Ontario and B.C., that came to Newfoundland and bought properties. And Port aux Basques was certainly one of the places people came to, so the market was quite strong for awhile,” said Strickland. “Fiona added another element. The Ontario market has cooled entirely because of the high interest rates, so the out of province market is really cooling off because people aren’t getting the same value they had for their homes previously. Now, with Fiona, we’ve had so many families who were dislocated that what ended up happening is they all hit the housing market at almost the same time, and it almost became ultra-competitive to find suitable properties for families.” Unfortunately for those looking for homes now, their money won’t go nearly as far as it did only a few years ago. “What happened then, with supply and demand, the prices started skyrocketing. Some people got some really good value for their homes that they wouldn’t have received prior to COVID, so that was certainly another element that put a spike in the market,” said Strickland. “For the most part, prices are really strong. They are at top dollar right now.” It’s a sellers market right now, and most local landlords with rental properties they can sell are simply taking advantage of it. “First of all, you had the whole contingent of people who were looking for rental properties, so they flooded the market right out of the gate, and looking at the rental market alone, once that happened, there were zero vacancies and that spiked the rental rates in some cases. When people did decide to rent, and now what you’re seeing is that there isn’t enough rental accommodation for people. It’s almost impossible to find an apartment to rent right now. I’m getting calls every other day, just wondering, ‘Can I rent? Can I rent to own? Is there anything short term?’ Even Airbnb’s, I’m sure, are flat out right now.” People who used to run Airbnb’s are now mandated to follow additional provincial legislation, and some are choosing to sell instead. “There are a lot of people who have decided to sell and that’s just because the value is there now. If the market is as strong as it is, for an investment property, that’s why you have an investment property. You pay it down and take care of it. You hope the market rises, and when the market rises to where you’re comfortable enough to make a profit, then it’s time to cash in and that’s absolutely what people have been doing,” said Strickland. “This is one for the history books. I think living accommodations are still going to be tight for a while with respect to home ownership, but there’s going to be a real need going forward for affordable housing, rental complexes, that sort of thing. I’m not sure how government is going to approach that, but the need for it is certainly going to be there over the next several years for sure.” Even though the housing crisis isn’t going to be fixed for quite some time, Button said they aren’t going to stop trying to help. “It’s been very stressful for people that are directly involved and people like ourselves who are trying to find ways and means to be able to come up with some sort of solution, working with officials to find solutions. It’s just been a major impact to our community,” said Button. “We had a housing situation in the beginning and when we had this, it only escalated it that much more. It’s been very stressful, and the people that have been affected, for them it’s even more stressful, but we’re trying to work through it. We recognize the problems. They’ve been brought forward and they are continuously talked about to find solutions, but the solutions aren’t quick and easy fixes. It’s something we are very much aware of and something we’re going to work as hard as we can to try to find ways to help.”

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