A city council meeting in Fredericton Monday night could determine whether an affordable housing proposal in the city goes ahead or is stopped in its tracks.
On Friday, the New Brunswick government announced it would contribute $1.4M to the John Howard Society as it seeks to convert the City Motel into affordable housing. The plan would see housing arranged with some support services for about 40 people, says project coordinator Jason LeJeune.
“You’re talking about the largest affordable housing project to be undertaken in Fredericton in decades,” he says. “One floor of the building will be 12 peer supportive housing units, another floor will be 20 housing first units, which is kind of a low barrier, people just really need access and a little bit of care.”
“The lower floor, on a temporary basis, will be a relocation of the Out of the Cold Shelter that exists now on Brunswick Street,” LeJeune says.
The provincial money came as a timely announcement because the group recently learned of its federal funding application through the Rapid Housing Initiative of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
The project has a total price tag of $4.1M, says LeJeune, and the group has already raised $1.25M through the Fredericton Housing First Fund, the Human Development Council and the Regional Development Corporation.
But that leaves a $1.45M shortfall to see the project through. LeJeune says he’s hoping for financial support from the municipality when city councillors meet Monday night. According to the council agenda, the city will discuss how it allocates $3,183,110.97 of federal Safe Restart Funding.
But the John Howard Society only has a short window to figure out how to get the pitch off the ground.
“Our drop-dead date for the project for us to complete our financing is March 31,” LeJeune says.
If council doesn’t support the full price tag, “we’ll look for a ‘plan C,’ I guess,” he says. “It’s not really evident what that would be.”
The motel currently has some long-term tenants as well as short-term guests.
If the money is in place, renovations could start as early as April. LeJeune estimates the project could be completed in late July or August.
Provincial review underway, advocate calls it a ‘crisis’
Access to affordable housing has been an issue that people have passionately advocated for, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Low vacancy rates, rising rents, and concerns about evictions have been top of mind for many.
Premier Blaine Higgs, who has previously denied there is a “crisis” in the rental market, announced a 90-day review of the rental situation would be undertaken last month. The province also announced it was seeking public input from renters, landlords and developers on the subject last week.
George Cormier, the executive director of the New Brunswick Non-Profit Housing Association, says the issue needs attention now.
“I think that review is probably gonna conclude what we have concluded,” he says. “We’re in a housing crisis and the problem is lack of affordable housing.”
In a news release Friday, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said the province is “hopeful” the city “will also invest and be an equal partner in this very important initiative.”
“Homelessness is a complex issue that requires the participation of all three levels of government, community partners and the public,” the statement says. “While we are disappointed that the project was not chosen for funding through the federal Rapid Housing initiative, we are still committed to our investment in this project.”
“We are confident that it will help homeless people in Fredericton by offering transitional housing units, peer-supported units and an emergency homeless shelter,” he said.