New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the 90-day rental review announced in Thursday’s state of the province address aims to understand the state of low-income housing in the province.
“We have heard your concerns from across the province about affordable housing and rent increases in recent months,” Higgs said in his address.
“We will be evaluating the market, vacancy rates, rental fees and trends, and the impact COVID-19 may be having on all of the above.”
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Higgs said the review will be conducted by the civil service in order to augment data already presented to caucus comparing Service New Brunswick’s understanding of the rental situation in the province with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental survey released last month.
The CMHC report shows that rents in the province’s urban centres jumped by about 5.5 per cent, higher than the national average of 3.6 per cent.
Higgs says the picture presented to caucus this week suggests the rental situation in the province is not overly worrying.
“No, we don’t have a crisis,” Higgs said.
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“What I want to understand is how our affordable housing model and our rental model in the province works in comparison with other provinces and what that actually means in terms of our ability to meet the needs, whether it be low income or whether it be those who are looking for housing of any type.”
That examination of where low-income housing stands is what the next 90-day study will be tasked with determining.
Green Leader David Coon says that data is already easily available.
“All the premier has to do is ask the staff at NB Housing in the department of social development where things stand with low-income housing. They have the statistics, they know exactly where things stand by region, by city — it’s all there. They can give him briefing notes tomorrow,” Coon said.
In order to protect tenants while the review is underway, Coon said the premier should put in place a rent freeze for the next 90 days.
“It’s dangerous, because it sends the message to some that own rental accommodations that maybe there’s a rent cap coming, so they’ll raise the rent now before that happens,” Coon said.
“So it could backfire in that very direct way.”
Those concerns are shared by the New Brunswick Tenants Coalition, which notes that the 90-day timeline for the review is the exact amount of notice a landlord must give to a tenant before raising rent. The amount rents can be raised by, as long as appropriate notice is given, is not capped.
“This simply kicks the can down the road,” said Aditya Rao, a spokesperson for the coalition.
“We need emergency measures now, not in 90 days.
Rao says the group welcomes the review and hopes that it will spawn an overhaul of tenancy legislation in the province, but says details about what the study will look like are sparse and the group is calling for a seat at the table.
“Will there be stakeholder engagement in this process? We don’t know. Will groups that represent tenants have a seat at the table? We haven’t received a call so we don’t know that either,” Rao said.
Calls for rent control and an eviction freeze have been sounding for months. Higgs has said previously that he wasn’t sure such measures were necessary and that he was speaking with landlords to better understand the situation.
In the first 10 months of 2020, there were 1,525 requests for evictions in the province, down from 2,518 in the whole of 2019 and 1,688 in 2018. But the province had previously put a freeze on evictions from March 19 to May 31 of this year, meaning the 1,525 requests for evictions actually cover just over seven months.
Both Coon and Rao question how the government tracks eviction statistics, saying the numbers don’t show the whole picture. So-called “renovictions,” where a tenant’s lease is not renewed so a landlord can renovate, or those who leave their home due to a large increase in the monthly rent, are not included in eviction stats.
“For all intents and purposes, these are evictions,” Rao said. “When the government tells us that they are seeing low numbers and they don’t think this is a crisis, we couldn’t disagree more.
“A single person being rendered homeless, or being forced out of their homes during a pandemic is a concern.”