Residents of Happy Valley Goose Bay frustrated with high rent
© Derek Montague photo
Amy Goodyear currently lives at her mother-in-law’s apartment, where she and her family have been living due to the high cost of rent in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
With the Muskrat Falls project underway, Happy Valley-Goose Bay is going through a boom. New contractors and companies have set up shop in the community, creating more jobs and bigger economic growth.
But that growth has put higher demand on housing and apartments in the area and residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay are feeling the squeeze with the rising cost of living. (See related story ‘Rent Horror Stories’, Page A8).
The cost of renting a home or buying a house is no longer affordable to many residents who are trying to get by, paycheque to paycheque
The price of houses for sale in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is far beyond the reach for many people in the community. Current listings to date include $319,000 for a bungalow; $299,900 for a house in Spruce Park; $450,000 for a three-bedroom unit with a basement apartment. Rarely would one be able to find a house for under $200,000.
Since many residents cannot possibly afford such a mortgage, renting is the only other alternative. But, as many frustrated people have found out in central Labrador, renting an apartment has become difficult as well.
Two years ago, life was pretty comfortable for Amy Goodyear and her family. The mother of two was living with her kids and husband in a three bedroom duplex, which they rented for just $700 a month.
Now, two years later, due to financial complications and the skyrocketing costs of rent in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Goodyear and her family are forced to live with her mother-in-law in a two-bedroom basement apartment.
“It’s really cramped. It’s not much room for the kids to run around,” says Amy.
The problems began in 2011, when the owners of the duplex told Amy and her husband Rick that they were selling the place, which forced the family of four to find somewhere else to live. But they knew it wouldn’t be easy to find an affordable spot.
Both Amy and Rick saw other people were struggling with rent in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and were hoping to hang on to their affordable three-bedroom duplex.
“We started noticing that rent was going up everywhere and I was thankful that we had our duplex,” says Amy.
When the Goodyear’s began looking for a new place, however, it became clear they would be paying much more money each month than they were accustomed to.
The best place they could find was a three-bedroom apartment on Mesher Street for $1100 dollars a month. They moved into their new home in October of 2011.
Paying $400 dollars more per month meant money would be much tighter, but Amy and her family could at least get by with the expense.
At the time, both Amy and Rick were attending the College of the North Atlantic and because they are Nunatsiavut beneficiaries, were getting enough living allowance to live on. Rick was also working part-time while he was studying to be a heavy equipment mechanic.
But the rent they were paying became more problematic in October of 2012. Amy, who had graduated from her Northern Natural Resource program at CNA a few months prior, was laid off from her seasonal job. Amy than discovered she had not worked enough hours to receive employment insurance benefits.
This left Rick — who was still going to college and working — the only breadwinner for the household. With $1100 a month in rent, and two growing youngsters to feed and clothe, money became tighter once again.
‘Falling through the cracks’
The Goodyear’s situation came to a head in the spring of 2013.
According to Amy, the landlords of their Mesher Street apartment informed them of their intent to sell, leaving the Goodyear’s with the dilemma of finding yet another new place to rent.
Amy became stressed when she realized that it was going to be tougher than ever to find another affordable three-bedroom apartment or house to rent.
The prices ranged from $1500 to $3000 a month, much more than what Amy and Rick were used to paying.
In April Amy filled out an application for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, which provides affordable units to people in need across the province.
According to information provided by Kate Moffatt, Executive Director of programs, Policy and Research with NL Housing, the organization provides 68 units in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
But in order to qualify for the one of the units, applicants must have a household income of $32,500 or less.
This is in stark contrast to the threshold that is set for Labrador City, which, do to the housing crisis in Lab West, is set at a $65,000 household income.
Moffatt says there is no current plans to adjust the household income limit for Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“We’ve discussed it, but we’re not going to make a change in Goose Bay at this time,” says Moffatt.
According to Amy, when she went to the local NL Housing office to file her family’s application, it was rejected because they made too much money the year previous.
“I was so distraught afterwards, I almost had a car accident,” says Amy. “All I could think about was not having a place to live.”
“People like us are falling through the cracks. We’re not below the poverty line, so we don’t qualify for NL housing.”
Even if Amy and her family were accepted for affordable housing, it’s likely they wouldn’t get a place right away. There are currently 21 people on NL Housing’s wait list in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
It looked like Amy caught a break in May, when they were told that the landlords changed their minds and weren’t going to sell. But, according to Amy, if they chose to stay, rent would increase to $1450 per month.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, a landlord cannot change the price of rent during a fixed-term lease, or for the first 12 months of a month to month/week to week arrangement.
But after that first year, the landlords can increase the rent as much as they want, with no cap or limit. There are many renters in Happy Valley Goose Bay who, like the Goodyears, have to move at the end of a lease because of rent increases.
They tried living there for a month under the new rent, but left in June, after discovering that they simply could not afford it.
At this time, the Goodyear’s financial situation wasn’t getting any better. Rick had a full time job, but Amy had to quit a job she landed in May after one week so she could take care of family issues.
She was hoping to return to work, but at around the same time, her 13-year-old son, Jared, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Amy had to stay home to make sure that he received five needles a day, while school was out for summer.
At the end of June, they moved in with their mother-in-law in the cramped two-bedroom apartment. Like many other people who are struggling to make ends meet in Goose Bay, Rick and Amy have been looking for job opportunities on the island portion of the province, where rent is more affordable.
“We want to start somewhere fresh now,” says Amy. “Because we’re not able to afford the rent here.”
The high cost of rent is not only affecting families. Young adults who are looking to find a simple apartment to live in are also feeling the pressure.
Jennifer Bailey, 28, left Happy Valley-Goose Bay in December 2012 to visit St. John’s for a few months. When she left, she gave up the apartment that she shared with her roommate, anticipating that she’d be able to find another apartment when she came back.
But when she started looking for a place, she realized that finding a new apartment for her and her boyfriend at the time would be quite difficult.
“There’s lots of (one bedroom) apartments for $1000 or $1200. A cheap apartment these days is $900 (a month) these days,” says Jennifer.
“But I have a car and student loan and insurance — all that stuff.”
Whenever Jennifer and her boyfriend found a place they could afford, someone else would grab it before they even had a chance to talk to the landlord.
“There’s no available apartments because as soon as a tenant leaves…it’s rented out to the next person in line,” says Jennifer.
In March they finally found a place to stay — a cabin on Mud Lake Road that had no running water, Internet, or cell phone service.
Since the weather was still cold when they moved in, Jennifer and her boyfriend put plastic around the windows and door to keep the draft out. But despite having to rough it for a few months, Jennifer was just happy they had a place to stay, even if it didn’t have some modern conveniences.
“It was small, but cozy. It was good in the summer time.”
Since they had no running water, Jennifer and her boyfriend would visit family and friends in the evening to shower, do laundry, and fill up their water buckets.
Not many people would be able to rough it out these days for five straight months. But Bailey, who originally came to central Labrador in 2008, loves it here and would like to stay in Goose Bay.
“My family said I should stay in St. John’s,” says Jennifer, “But there’s a little bit of Labrador that gets into you that draws you back.”
Eventually, Jennifer was able to move back in with her old roommate from last year and was able to leave the cabin behind. But as more and more people are contemplating moving because of living expenses, Jennifer may also have to leave central Labrador.
Just recently, her best friend moved to Nova Scotia due to rent increases.
“I would need to have a job waiting for me if I move,” says Jennifer. “But I’ve been tempted to leave, like my friend did.”