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Moncton commits $6M to affordable housing entity, pending matching provincial contribution

Click to play video 'Moncton council votes to give $6 million to affordable housing initiative' Moncton council votes to give $6 million to affordable housing initiative
Moncton city council has voted to give the Rising Tide Community Initiative $6 million over three years to fund affordable housing project. The group now seeks matching funds from the province. Callum Smith has the story – Nov 2, 2020

Moncton city councillors have voted in favour of funding a new affordable housing initiative at a cost of $6 million over the next three years — as long as the provincial government contributes the same.

Rising Tide Community Initiative Inc. promises to create 125 affordable units over the next three years and provide support services to clients or tenants, which advocates have long called for.

But affordable housing falls under provincial jurisdiction and some councillors are calling on the New Brunswick government to step up too, otherwise, Rising Tide says the project is dead.

Read more: New Brunswick, federal government announce accessible and affordable rental units in Moncton

Blair Lawrence, a councillor for Ward 2, stood up during the Monday night public council meeting, looked directly into a Global News camera and sent a message to the provincial government.

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“I would challenge the province to meet the City of Moncton’s commitment to homelessness in this province as it’s their responsibility,” Ward 2 Coun. Blair Lawrence said.

Ward 2 Councillor Blair Lawrence stood up, stared into a camera, and challenged the New Brunswick government to match the city’s funding commitment and support the Rising Tide project. Callum Smith / Global News

“Moncton is quite fed up with the province downloading its jurisdictional responsibilities to municipalities by merely ignoring the needs and the requirements of New Brunswickers when it comes to housing,” Pierre Boudreau, a councillor-at-large, said.

Despite a staff recommendation to adjourn the decision while a ‘social impact audit’ is underway, Rising Tide demanded an answer Monday — and councillors supported the motion. The only nay vote came from Coun. Paul Pellerin.

“Getting the city on board in a jurisdiction that’s not their responsibility speaks volumes I think to what they want to be able to do to try to improve the community for the most vulnerable citizens we have here,” Rising Tide Co-founder Dale Hicks told reporters after the meeting.

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“Also, it has ramifications with the business community and first responders, so I’m very pleased and very proud of the decision by council tonight.”

Councillors were opposed to a tax hike to support the project, so the money will instead be drawn “from reserves and/or a delay of capital projects as approved by Council,” according to the passed motion.

City numbers suggest nearly 200 people are known to be homeless right now.

And 40 per cent of households pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, councillors were told.

“We have this growing issue in our city… We have a responsibility to help remedy it, mitigate the issues, but we cannot do it alone,” Coun. Lawrence said. “We definitely need provincial support to make it happen.”

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Rising Tide Co-founder Dale Hicks says Moncton’s financial commitment stops at $6-million, saying the city would not be on the hook for long-term sustainability costs. Callum Smith / Global News

Mayor Dawn Arnold says if the province does indeed write a matching cheque, the project has potential to be a gamechanger.

“It’s huge… It’s an enormous initiative,” she told reporters. “It’s the first time ever for a municipality to step up like this, get the province on board. We’re hoping for federal money, as well.”

Councillors heard other jurisdictions, such as Abbotsford and Lethbridge, also contributed to housing projects, but their commitments are much less than $2 million annually.

Hicks said the funding is needed to make sure the project “is done right.”

He said long-term financial sustainability for Rising Tide would be in the hands of the province, so the city’s maximum financial obligation would be the $6 million.

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Details with the province need to be worked out, including how addictions and mental health supports would be managed, Hicks said.

“I have a high level of confidence that now that we sit down with the province and get into the proposal, that I think the province would be there to support it,” Hicks said.

Hicks said they’ll approach the province Tuesday to seek a matching funding commitment. But he said if there is no financial commitment from the province by Christmas, the project will not proceed.