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Housing advocate says there are promising 'nuggets' in N.L. budget to address crisis

End Homelessness St. John's executive director Doug Pawson anticipates that housing will feature prominently in the budget. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
End Homelessness St. John's executive director Doug Pawson anticipates that housing will feature prominently in the budget. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
End Homelessness St. John's executive director Doug Pawson anticipates that housing will feature prominently in the budget.
End Homelessness St. John's executive director Doug Pawson anticipates that housing will feature prominently in the budget.

End Homelessness St. John's executive director Doug Pawson says he was pleased to see spending on housing but it will take time to solve a problem years in the making. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

A St. John's housing advocate says the 2024 provincial budget includes some promising ways to tackle Newfoundland and Labrador's housing crisis, including new housing units and spending on existing homes.

Doug Pawson, executive director of End Homelessness St. John's says it's not realistic to expect a single budget "that's been 25, 35 years in the making," but this year's budget, released Thursday, has taken some good steps.

"I think the budget does make some progress toward, you know, housing and homelessness crises facing communities across the province," he said, adding addressing the housing shortage will have to involve multiple jurisdictions.

The budget includes $50 million for a rental housing development loan program. In addition, $12 million is going toward work on provincial housing units in Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik. An additional $8 million is being allocated for repair work, maintenance and renovations for provincial housing units.

However, Pawson said it's hard to tell which budget items are new, which ones were previously announced, and what is left over from previous budgets.

Pawson was glad to see the $8 million being allocated for the upkeep of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing units, which he said is "desperately needed."

Depending on what type of housing is being built, he said, it can take three to five years of construction, so enhancing rental subsidies will help.

He also noted that spending is planned beyond St. John's, with $36 million being spent over four years to build more than 100 new provincial housing homes in Corner Brook, central Newfoundland and Labrador West.

"Those are areas that have lacked affordable housing options for some time. So those dedicated investments will go a long way," said Pawson.

N.L. Housing folded into government

Housing Minister Fred Hutton said Thursday that housing is a provincewide problem that will need a "government-wide response." As a result, he said, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing will be integrated into core government.

"We've done it with other entities within government and we're doing this as well," said Hutton.

Pawson also highlighted the $30 million being injected to construct the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Hub, which will help to provide homeless people with housing, health care and other support services.

There is also $13 million is going toward a transitional supportive living initiative in St. John's for 140 rooms and wrap-around support.

Hutton said that money is tied to the Comfort Inn, a hotel on the east end of St. John's that's being converted into transitional housing that will have 140 beds.

Pawson called the funding "critical."

"It's really important to recognize how integral it is to integrate health services and housing services in those areas that are suffering with big homelessness numbers — to support those folks who are experiencing homelessness to really stabilize and move on," he said.

"There's some nuggets in there around new investments that I think go a long way and signal that housing is really making provincial investments."

The longer people are homeless, he said, the more their mental and physical health decline, so there needs to be investment in affordable housing units in the short to long term.

The money for housing in St. John's and Happy Valley-Goose Bay signals to him the provincial government is making an effort to stabilize the homelessness crisis while ensuring housing is still being built.

For context, he said, 50 per cent of homeless people in St. John's come from other parts of the province, so more affordable housing units getting built across N.L. will reduce the strain on emergency reserves in regional hubs.

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