They say apartments are available but finding affordable housing has been a challenge.
Every two weeks, Noble Collins kisses his two children goodbye as he sets off for work 2,051 kilometres away.
He packs a part of his life in simple black luggage, carrying articles just enough to sustain him for the 14 days he is away in Nunavik, Que., working at a mining company.
It’s a new experience but he follows this routine so he can afford rent, food and clothing for his family of four – even if it means not being able to see his children grow-up every day.
Collins arrived in St. John’s last year from the eastern region of Kharkhiv, Ukraine, a once-vibrant land now bearing the scars of war inflicted by Russia.
“Every decision you make comes with a price,” he said.
Their story mirrors that of many Ukrainian newcomers who have sought refuge in this province.
Kerry Murray, the director of Ukrainian services at the Association for New Canadians, says they provide essential information on banking, phone plans, a 45-day temporary hotel-stay as well as assist with apartment hunting.
“We get a lot of properties that don’t even hit the rental market,” said Murray.
Despite getting an extra-edge over the housing market and sharing a close relationship with local realtors, many Ukrainians have exceeded the 45-day period by several months. And yet they have been unsuccessful in securing a home that is affordable.
Collins says his former $800 biweekly paycheque was not enough to even pay for rent and utilities.
“How do you manage food?” said Collins looking at his daughter’s face. “Four months ago, I was working two full-time jobs, seven days a week. It was taking a whole lot out of me.”
Even though the couple has authorized work permits from the federal government, only one of them is allowed to work. The other stays home with the kids because they cannot find childcare.
Currently his children are waitlisted in 15 different daycare agencies around the city and the earliest they can get a spot is in 2025.
“You can’t find housing without employment.”Kerry Murray
Despite several temporary efforts such as a “homestay” program by the association, many Ukrainians still find themselves calling hotels their homes.
Finding a place, says Murray, to live can be challenging and certain barriers might make complicate the process.
“You can’t find housing without employment,” said Murray.
For some Ukrainians, said Murray, the lack of English or French language skills translates into more of a struggle when job hunting.
The Collins family’s situation is far from unique.
Newfoundland and Labrador welcomed 3,100 Ukrainians to the province to date, says the Minister of Immigration, Population, Growth and Skills, Gerry Byrne. Out of that, he says, 200 are still living in hotels with more Ukrainians arriving every day.
“We have one of the highest uptakes of Ukrainians in Newfoundland and Labrador compared to rest of Canada,” said Byrne.
Currently, the province is the only one in the country to offer temporary hotel stays for people from Ukraine free-of-cost.
With the province’s downward population change for over four decades, the immigration targets are set very clearly.
The minister says the province has a target of welcoming 5,100 permanent residents every year until 2026. In 2023, the number has already reached 3,500, which includes many Ukrainians.
However, affordability continues to be a pressing concern in the rental market.
The vacancy rate in the province is at 3 per cent but Century 21 real estate agent Jaykumar Patel says the chance of finding a place to rent in St. John’s is at an all-time low.
“Rental houses are available, let’s be clear on that,” said Patel. “But to find an affordable option, you have to move out of the city centre.”
He added that the demand for housing is so high apartment rental ads receive overwhelming responses within minutes, especially apartments near the shopping mall and university.
“Home prices currently are affordable for investors but certainly not for renters,” said Patel.
Amidst the lack of affordable housing and rising living costs, the province’s immigration minister says the housing market is complex.
“The rental market, homeowners’ market and investors’ market are all very different,” said Byrne.
“People often do not understand the complexities of the housing market and call it a crisis.”
About the author
Ariyana Gomes is a second-year student journalist at College of the North Atlantic. She writes print stories and produces video pieces for Kicker. She is a news-buff. When she is not chasing interviewees, Ariyana can be found consuming all things current affairs. Got a news tip? email her: email@example.com