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Rooming house evictions in Moncton highlight affordable housing problem

Click to play video: 'Rooming house closure highlights Moncton’s housing problem' Rooming house closure highlights Moncton’s housing problem
The recent closure of a rooming house in Moncton is calling attention to the city’s problem of homelessness. About 20 people are searching for a home after the rooming house was deemed unsafe. The city’s deputy chief says evictions are rare, but difficult. Callum Smith reports – Jul 19, 2021

Approximately 20 people are left searching for permanent housing options, after a rooming house was deemed unsafe in Moncton last week.

The rooming house on Steadman Street had to be investigated and inspected by the Moncton Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division, after it received a complaint of “unsafe living conditions.”

“As a result of the inspection, unfortunately, immediate eviction had to be done of all the tenants,” says Deputy Chief Charles LeBlanc, who is also manager of community safety for the city.

Read more: 18 displaced, firefighter injured after blaze damages Moncton rooming house

He says conditions inside the duplex were “deplorable” with evidence of “hoarding,” which blocked fire exits and made it unsafe for people living there in the case of an emergency.

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“We don’t want to see people out on the street,” LeBlanc says. “As we know, we have a growing homeless population in our community, and the last thing we want to do is give an eviction where we may end up having 20-plus persons now homeless on the street.”

But he says evictions like this one are rare.

“We have hundreds of properties that we inspect every year,” he says. “And a very small percentage, I would say probably less than five per cent, end up in an actual eviction.”

He says all tenants received initial supports from the Canadian Red Cross or local shelters, and that the Fire Prevention Division often works with other partners when an eviction is happening.

Rooming houses often have a shared kitchen and washroom, and can now cost people in the range of $450 to $550 per month, says Harvest House Atlantic Executive Director Cal Maskery.

“They only have privacy in their bedroom,” he says.

“People are having a harder time finding a room than any time in our history. Prices have gone up in apartments so there’s more people that are moving towards rooming houses, even with couples wanting to get in.”

The rooming house on Steadman Street had to be investigated and inspected by Moncton’s (Fire Department) Fire Prevention Division after it received a complaint of “unsafe living conditions.”. Callum Smith / Global News

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold was unavailable for an interview Monday.

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In a statement, Austin Henderson, a city spokesperson, told Global News “rooming houses must meet the requirements of the National Fire Code, the National Building Code, and the Fire Prevention Act from the Province of New Brunswick.”

“Rooming houses and single-room occupancies play critical roles in offering affordable housing options for individuals whom otherwise might be homeless,” Henderson says.

After the adoption of Moncton’s Housing Implementation Plan in April 2019, Henderson says there were several stakeholder meetings to discuss how to reach rooming house goals.

“Alternative housing options must be identified prior to regulating rooming houses, as there is a risk that some landlords might preemptively close their doors and evict their tenants,” the statement says.

The city, province and federal government have all invested millions to Rising Tide Community Initiatives, a housing entity that is expected to provide safe, subsidized housing for about 160 people at a time, with wraparound support services.

Read more: ‘Hat-trick’: Feds announce $3.4M for Moncton’s Rising Tide affordable housing project

“So, Rising Tide was created to not only serve as a safety net for rooming house tenants, but to also set a standard by which rooming houses should operate,” Henderson says.

“The City is prepared to continue to explore initiating those action items once Rising Tide becomes fully operational, however, in the meantime, landlords of any kind cannot be permitted to lease dangerous and unsafe housing,” he says.

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Myriam Mekni, the managing director for Rising Tide, says in her opinion, people living in rooming houses are effectively homeless because they’re not in their own place.

She says Rising Tide has closed its sale on three properties so far, including two buildings and one vacant lot.

“Once they’re ready, they would secure about 35 units,” she says.

Mekni says the goal is to provide 65 units by March 2022.

But Deputy Chief LeBlanc says there are “several hundred” rooming houses in the downtown that aren’t registered with the province.

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