Affordable Housing FAQ

Affordable Housing FAQ

  1. What does affordable housing mean?
  2. What is core housing need?
  3. Why is housing so important?
  4. What is the City doing to respond to the current situation?
  5. Is housing really a municipal responsibility?
  6. What are my rights and responsibilities as a tenant?
  7. Where can I find links to reports/publications for more information?

What does affordable housing mean?
According to the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC):
In Canada, housing is considered affordable if shelter costs account for less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. The term "affordable housing" is often used interchangeably with "social housing"; however, social housing is just one category of affordable housing and usually refers to rental housing subsidized by the government. Affordable housing is a much broader term and includes housing provided by the private, public and not-for-profit sectors as well as all forms of housing tenure (ie. rental, ownership and cooperative ownership). It also includes temporary as well as permanent housing. In other words, the term "affordable housing" can refer to any part of the housing continuum from temporary emergency shelters through transition housing, supportive housing, subsidized housing, market rental housing or market homeownership.  

In the St. John’s housing market the task of securing adequate, affordable housing can be extremely difficult for people across the income spectrum.  

CMHC Housing Continuum

What is core housing need?
According to CMHC, a Household Is in Core Housing Need If

  • its housing does not meet one or more of the adequacy, suitability or affordability standards, and
  • it would have to spend 30% or more of its before-tax income to access acceptable local housing.

11.9% (9000) households were in core housing need in St. John’ in 2011.

Why is housing so important?
Housing is a foundation upon which a prosperous, vibrant and healthy community is built. Investment in affordable housing solutions helps to produce many dividends for the entire community:

  • A secure labour force, especially in the essential service sector of the economy.
  • Healthy independent living for seniors.
  • The reduction of poverty.
  • Improved outcomes for employment, education, health and community safety.
  • Environmental sustainability through energy efficiency.

Affordable housing is about creating and promoting a range of housing choices as diverse as the city itself: Different people have different housing needs based on their household size, employment, ability, health, income, stage in life, and a host of other factors. 

Is housing really a municipal responsibility?
Municipalities have long been active and vocal on the issue of affordable housing. The City of St. John’s owns and operates 454 units of affordable housing and its history of involvement in affordable housing issues spans five decades. The City’s traditional role in housing has included planning, zoning, development control, as well as enforcement of minimum standards and by-laws. The City has also provided land, waived fees, and expedited inspections to facilitate affordable housing initiatives by non-profit and private developers. We must engage many partners and pursue strategic solutions that multiply our efforts, including the other levels of government, as well as the community and private sectors.

Read more about the issue of affordable housing on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities website, here.

What is the City doing to respond to the current situation?

The City of St. John's is stepping forward with strong leadership and effective partnerships.

Affordable Housing Charter: In 2011, City Council adopted the Affordable Housing Charter which commits the City to collaborative action to ensure all residents have access to housing that they can afford. 

Vision: St. John’s will be a vibrant, inclusive and thriving city with a wide range of affordable housing options that contribute directly to community health, sustainable growth and economic security.
Affordable Housing is:

  • a foundation for a safe, prosperous and healthy community;
  • a vital part of the infrastructure of our City;
  • a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • a key pathway out of poverty;
  • a sound public investment that contributes to resident well-being and the economy. 

History of the City's Housing Action

The following is a summary of action that the City has taken in recent years to address housing and homelessness issues with its many partners.
1960’s and 70’s:

  • Cost shared operation of two significant housing developments with the Province.
  • Became delivery agent for the Federal Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) – resulted in renovations to hundreds of homes in St. John’s. 

1980’s and 90’s:

  • Built 424 housing units for singles, seniors and families from 1982 to 1992. Primarily infill housing – designed to revitalize the core area and stabilize neighbourhoods
  • The City still owns and manages these units (second largest provider of affordable housing in the St. John’s area) and partners with several community agencies over the years in the delivery of housing options.
  • Convened an Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Committee on Housing to encourage collaboration on affordable housing issues 

2000 – 2009:

  • Participated as a founding member of the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness under the federal Homelessness Partnerships Strategy (formerly NHI).  Through membership, the City has helped to support many housing & homelessness capital projects by waiving property taxes and development charges, providing planning support and some City land.
  • Established a Sub-Committee on Housing (reporting to the standing committee on Planning & Housing Committee).
  • Formed the Affordable Housing Action Committee, which has since become the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Affordable Housing (MACAH) (and as of 2016 is now the Affordable Housing Working Group) which includes members from all orders of government and the community and private sectors.  The City has convened annual housing forums since 2008. 

2010 – 2014:

  • An Affordable Housing Coordinator was hired in 2010.
  • St. John’s Council adopted an Affordable Housing Action Plan and Charter in February 2011 which outlined the City’s commitment to housing as a priority issue and concrete strategies to address the shortage of affordable housing options from 2011-13.
  • City Council was the first funder (and committed to two years) for the Home Share Pilot project and city staff served on advisory committee for this pioneering local initiative that creates housing partnerships between seniors and students.
  • The City built 30 new units of affordable housing in Pleasantville, together with NL Housing, using land acquired through the federal government’s Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative. Twenty four of the units created became part of the City’s Non Profit Housing portfolio. This project includes office and social enterprise space for the NL Housing and Homelessness Network. The City contributed $500 000 toward the development of the social enterprise space.
  • The City donated land to Habitat for Humanity and Saint Vincent de Paul for their affordable housing developments.
  • City land in the Shea Heights area has been earmarked for development of attainable housing. An RFP went out to attract qualified private sector proponents to create a plan for the site.
  • City staff has compiled an inventory of lands in Ward Two that could be suitable for redevelopment, including affordable housing options.
  • City of St. John’s introduced new energy efficiency standards for all new home construction to improve long term affordability and reduce greenhouse gases.
  • City staff conducted national research and convened a workshop with the local private sector to craft a comprehensive submission on housing possibilities as part of the Municipal Plan review process.
  • The City hosted a workshop on rental property standards with a large and diverse representation from community and government and has convened a working group (Rental Team) to develop concrete solutions to promote safe and healthy rental housing.
  • The City has been an active member of the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness (SJCACH) since its inception in 2000. This diverse group has developed several four-year community plans to address homelessness through shelter creation, awareness raising, and community capacity building.
  • In 2013 the City took on the role as the Community Entity that administers the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy funds, joining 60 other Cities in distributing funds and creating partnerships to end homelessness in St John's.
  • City Hall has been one of the many sites where the NL Housing and Homelessness Network’s annual pancake breakfast was hosted. Proceeds have gone to projects that address homelessness. 

2014 – Present

Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG)
The main hub for the City’s leadership on this issue is the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG) formerly the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Affordable Housing (MACAH). The Affordable Housing Working Group is primarily responsible for the implementation of the Affordable Housing Business Plan approved by the City in 2014. In implementing the plan, the AHWG is to consider relevant City policies and activities which impact the plan and ensure communication with the appropriate parties.

Sub-Committees of the AHWG include:

  • Rental Team (with a smaller Landlord Engagement Sub-Committee)
  • Seniors Affordable Housing Team
  • Sounding Board: Social & Supportive Housing Providers Network
  • Energy Efficiency Team

Afforable Housing Business Plan (AHBP)
Along with the Affordable Housing Charter, Council also approved the City’s first Affordable Housing Business Plan (AHBP) entitled ‘Creating Opportunities, Housing Our Community’.  Council adopted this plan, which set the target of creating 500 affordable homes in the city during their current term (2014-2017).  The AHBP recognized that the City could not do it alone, but would lead the way. Meeting the target would require that the City engage many partners in a collaborative and sustained effort.
Affordable Housing Business Plan Report (December 2016) can be found here:

Highlights of the Affordable Housing Business Plan  

  • Development and building permit fees are waived for non-profit groups that develop affordable housing projects. Other affordable housing projects are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In 2017, Council approved the waving of development fees for private developers who have final approval for Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH)/provincial funding. 
  • Seniors Housing: Taken from the Seniors Housing Research Project (2014):
  • Landlord Engagement: In 2016 the City of St. John’s coordinated a survey of landlords in partnership with the Rental Team of the Affordable Housing Working Group. All landlords and property managers with rental property in St. John’s were encouraged to visit the City’s Engage page to take the survey which addressed barriers, obstacles and opportunities of achieving a successful tenancy. We had over 300 respondents! The results of the Landlord Survey will be used by the Rental Team to frame our Landlord Engagement plans moving forward as well as identify strengths, challenges and opportunities. The City, in partnership with the Rental Team hosted an Affordable Housing Forum with a focus on Landlord Engagement on November 22, 2016.
  • Property Standards: The Rental Team of the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG) as well as CSJ staff continue to work with landlords and other partners to ensure compliance on standards in all rental properties in the city. CSJ’s Supervisor of Inspection Services has been delivering a presentation to many of these partners, entitled, “City of St. John’s Inspection Services, Residential Property Standards Guidelines”. 
  • Social Marketing/NIMBY:  Due to the reality that NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) has been clearly identified as a major barrier to the development of more affordable housing options, the City partnered on developing a Building “Yes”! A Not-In-My-Backyard Toolkit for housing proponents. The toolkit explains that community apprehension reflects residents’ concerns that their lives will change for the worse. Sometimes these anxieties are concrete and focused on measurable impacts to a neighbourhood. In other instances, they may be based on stereotypes of new and unfamiliar residents. In the absence of informed dialogue, individuals and communities often react unfavourably to inventive housing solutions. These responses can incur high economic, political and social costs for a range of populations in need of these options. The City of St. John’s is working with a Consultant to develop a social marketing strategy as an opportunity to fight the NIMBY syndrome which can lead to the resistance of affordable housing projects. A long term social marketing strategy will assist us in the creation of more, much-needed affordable housing in St. John’s. 
  • Housing Catalyst Fund: The Housing Catalyst Fund allows the City to be a catalyst for practical and collaborative projects that produce tangible housing solutions for people. The City’s role through this fund is to work collaboratively with community groups and others such as builders and developers to facilitate and plan housing solutions that will enhance the quality for life for individuals and families, and build a healthier community. Anyone with an affordable housing project or program idea can apply for up to $10,000 per project. To be considered, projects must be solution focused and action oriented and must be in line with the City’s Affordable Housing Business Plan. The 2016 Housing Catalyst Fund Application form can be found here
  • Developing new City Owned Non Profit Housing Units: The City has successfully secured $2.5 million in funding through the joint federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing to build 20 new homes. The Sisters of Presentation have donated St. Patrick’s Convent to the city for use as affordable supportive housing for seniors. A total of 22 additional units will be built at this location by 2018. 

Non-Profit Housing
The City of St. John’s, Non-Profit Housing Division, is responsible for administration and management of 454 residential rental units throughout the City. These houses and apartments vary in size from one to four-bedroom units and are available for rent to low and moderate income earners on the basis of net family income.
The type of housing provided by the City ranges from a 65-unit apartment building on Hamilton Avenue to infill in the downtown core. While the majority of the housing provided by the City is in the Downtown area, we do provide housing as far east as Forest Road and as far west as Brookfield Road. Application for Accommodation - Non-Profit Housing can be found here.

End Homelessness St.John's
End Homelessness St. John's is a community-led, 'collective impact' Board which brings together all sectors to implement a plan to prevent and end homelessness in our city, based on Housing First principles. The City of St. John’s administers federal homelessness funds for End Homelessness St. John's (through the Non-Profit Housing Division of its Community Services Department) and provides the community development and brokering necessary to move the community forward as a collective.

Here's the link to EHSJ's 2014-2019 St. John's Community Plan to End Homelessness.

The City, under the current Affordable Housing Business Plan, identified 3 Non-Profit Housing (NPH) units to be used for Housing First (by the Front Step program). The units were furnished and ready for occupancy in March 2016.

What are my rights and responsibilities as a tenant?

The City of St. John's has prepared the guide Your Rights and Responsiblities as a Tenant  for the information of all tenants. This document was created in 2012 and is scheduled to be updated.

Where can I find links to reports/publications for more information?

All related affordable housing reports/documents can be found on the City’s website under “Publications” in the “Housing” section.