The affordable housing crisis in New Brunswick and the calls for action: ‘No more blame game’

Click to play video: 'Are lines of jurisdiction blending when it comes to housing?'
Are lines of jurisdiction blending when it comes to housing?
WATCH: People struggling to find an affordable place to live are calling for rent control. And Fredericton's mayor says while municipalities have always had a role to play when it comes to housing, there could be a bigger role to play moving forward. Callum Smith explains. – Apr 1, 2021

Tracy Saulnier is just one of many people searching for a place to live in New Brunswick.

She has until June 1 to find a new home after her landlord previously gave her notice that she’d have to vacate.

“Because of the market, the landlord wants to sell,” she says. “I’ve been in here over five years.”

But with an education plan set up at her son’s school in Moncton, the single mother can’t just relocate anywhere and is trying to remain in the city’s north end. But that has proven to be a difficult challenge.

Tracy Saulnier has to find a new place to live by June 1 after being told she’d have to vacate the apartment she’s rented for the last five years.
Tracy Saulnier has to find a new place to live by June 1 after being told she’d have to vacate the apartment she’s rented for the last five years. Submitted: Tracy Saulnier

“I’ve got a little guy and a little dog that depend on me,” she says. “The last thing I want to do is stress my kid out… He looks all around in those boxes everywheres because I’m pretty packed up and ready to go, but I don’t know where I’m gonna go.”

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Saulnier says she doesn’t care which level of government is responsible for housing; she just wants to see actions to help protect renters.

“No more blame game… We’re humans,” she says.

“Government is allowing people like me to slip through the cracks too, even though we’re out there trying to do the best we can,” she says. “It’s not enough.”

Click to play video: 'What levels of government are responsible for housing in New Brunswick?'
What levels of government are responsible for housing in New Brunswick?

Kadher Sulaimon Jalaludeen moved his family to Moncton from Saint John nearly one year ago as he tries to grow a new taxi/delivery company.

He considers himself lucky to have a place to live now, but it wasn’t an easy search.

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“I was going to give up,” he says in a Zoom interview.

Jalaludeen says he wanted to speak out because he knows many other people in similar positions.

Having children eliminated a number of options when he was checking out different places.

“The thing that really concerned me was the discrimination against people with kids,” he says.

Who is responsible for housing?

New Brunswick’s social development minister says housing is typically a joint responsibility between the federal and provincial governments, but he’s pleased to see some municipalities supporting local projects of late.

“It does show that the municipalities are willing to step up and address some of the issues that they’re seeing within their municipal borders,” Bruce Fitch tells Global News.

Margot Cragg, the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick’s executive director, says “social affordable housing is very clearly a provincial responsibility.”

The City of Moncton has committed to spending $6 million over three years to support Rising Tide Community Initiatives, promising to create approximately 160 affordable units over that time. And late last week, Fredericton city councillors committed to a conditional $900,000-grant to support the City Motel housing project.

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New Brunswick’s social development minister says housing is typically a joint responsibility between the federal and provincial governments. Callum Smith / Global News

Rising Tide is also receiving $6 million from the provincial government over three years, while New Brunswick is also committing $1.4 million to the City Motel project.

“I think the province is punching above its weight when it comes to housing,” Fitch says. “I know there’s a huge demand and we’re trying to meet that demand.”

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor said last week the province has yet to sign on to the Canada Housing Benefit, providing another stream of funding to support vulnerable people.

Fitch says more housing news is coming soon with a recently-passed provincial budget.

Rising Tide project

Moncton’s mayor says she’s heard concerns from other municipalities after the city announced its contribution for Rising Tide Community Initiatives.

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“They’ve certainly expressed concern to me about this,” she told Global News last week.

While speaking to reporters after initially approaching the city about Rising Tide’s plans, co-founder Dale Hicks said most people just want solutions.

“We think that it’s up to levels of government to finally stop talking about it, stop pointing fingers, start doing something,” he said Feb. 18, 2020. “I think the community as a whole doesn’t care whose jurisdiction it is, they just want the problem fixed.”

Click to play video: 'Renters increasingly at risk of losing their homes'
Renters increasingly at risk of losing their homes

Last week, Ottawa announced $3.4 million in funding for Rising Tide through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) Rapid Housing Initiative.

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Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, confirmed Tuesday projects that had support from other levels of government received a higher score for that funding stream.

Dale Hicks, co-founder of Rising Tide, speaks at a press conference at Moncton City Hall on Friday. He expects about 160 affordable units to be created over the next three years. Callum Smith / Global News

“If the proponent could also demonstrate that some of the supportive housing services would be supported by the province or the municipality, then yes, that would improve the score,” he said.

Hussen pointed to other federal avenues for funding, one of which also requires another level of government to support it — the National Housing Co-Investment Fund.

City Motel project

Meanwhile, city councillors in Fredericton recently decided to support a housing project in the capital to the tune of $900,000 — with conditions — after initially voting down a grant request of similar value.

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The city previously announced it would contribute $100,000 in “operational support” annually for 10 years, Mayor Mike O’Brien says.

But after originally rejecting a $900,000 grant request March 22, an emergency council meeting was held March 26 and councillors changed their mind with some more “protective” conditions attached to the new grant motion.

Jason LeJeune, a project coordinator for the John Howard Society. Callum Smith / Global News

O’Brien says they heard the outcry from the community, but social services and social housing are provincial responsibilities, he says.

“That was a quantum leap for the City of Fredericton and our council and I’m very proud of them,” he says. “But it sets a template for how we can maybe participate going forward on projects like this.”

O’Brien says traditionally, municipalities can help housing projects with zoning or even surplus land. But with income tax and sales tax going to the province, municipalities are responsible for road work, water and sewer.

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Municipal reform

The Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick says housing impacts municipalities when it comes to attracting businesses or jobs, attracting newcomers and population growth, and even overall quality of life.

“Housing really highlights the friction between our growing expectations of municipalities versus their responsibilities on paper, and as importantly, the revenues that they get to pay for it,” Cragg says.

She notes housing will be a “really important topic” in upcoming municipal reform conversations.

Inclusionary housing would allow municipalities to require that a certain number of units be affordable, but it would require changes to provincial law,” she says. “It’s currently not allowed.”

Regardless, housing is a provincial responsibility, she says.

“It’s a bit like being at work and having a mission critical task that’s technically assigned to someone else, but keeps landing on your own desk,” she says. “So the work has to get done, but it means you’ve got to figure out which part of your own job you’re not going to do so that you can do somebody else’s work.”

Click to play video: 'Poll that suggests 1 in 4 renters worried about paying rent amid COVID-19 should set off ‘alarm bells’: advocate'
Poll that suggests 1 in 4 renters worried about paying rent amid COVID-19 should set off ‘alarm bells’: advocate

Concerns from apartment owners

Willy Scholten, president of the New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association, previously told Global News rent control would encourage developers to build more single-family homes, or perhaps condo buildings, “so rental buildings will take a hit with rent controls as they have elsewhere.”

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The biggest change Scholten wants is the removal of double taxation.

“We, in New Brunswick, are paying 189 per cent higher than the other Atlantic provinces, and 312 per cent higher than the rest of Canada,” he says. “How can we look at affordable housing, how can we look at the rental industry, without acknowledging that fact and working towards fixing that?”’

The New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association previously told Global News it was opposed to rent control because it would discourage the development of apartments. Callum Smith / Global News

“We stand alone in Canada — and not in a good way,” he says, referencing the only province with both a municipal and provincial tax.

90-day review

The province is about halfway through its 90-day review of the rental situation in New Brunswick.

It called for public feedback from renters, landlords and developers.

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Premier Blaine Higgs has previously denied there’s a crisis in the rental market, but advocates like George Cormier, the New Brunswick Non-Profit Housing Association’s executive director, expect the review will prove the opposite.

“I think that review is probably gonna conclude what we have concluded,” Cormier has said. “We’re in a housing crisis and the problem is lack of affordable housing.”


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