As Fredericton creates more housing than ever, affordability is a challenge

Development has hit new record levels in Fredericton, according to the city, but only 25 per cent of the units created are affordable. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

The City of Fredericton says it has surpassed most previous records for development in the province’s capital.

It issued $257 million in building permits for 2022, an additional $70 million from the previous year. The construction has led to 938 new housing units.

“Relatively, we’re meeting the demand and we’re seeing development happen in the right places in those designated growth areas,” said Frederick VanRooyen, a planner with the City of Fredericton.

VanRooyen said the residential development has increased by $31 million alone, which is double the 10-year average.

Affordable housing a challenge

Despite 737 new apartment units and townhouses, the city said affordable housing does remain a challenge.

Mayor Kate Rogers said, in an interview on Friday, while the development is positive, including the growth that is double what was originally predicted, only 25 per cent of the units built in 2022 were considered affordable.

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She said she knows the private sector isn’t the whole solution to the affordable housing issue. One of the biggest challenges identified by council was land acquisition for the non-profit sector.

“It’s the unlocking of land to make their developments doable,” Rogers said. “They don’t necessarily have liquid funds to buy the land.”

The NB Coalition for Tenants Rights said it feels the city’s policies are moving in the right direction, but more urgency is needed. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

On the other hand, the private sector said funding through federal and provincial partners is slow and likely not enough to keep up with the increased costs of building.

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“The funding is delayed given what the actual costs are,” Rogers said.

The city did consider creating bylaws that would require new developments to have a minimum number of affordable units, but said inclusionary zoning wasn’t the right solution after a study.

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“We were shown from that study it might not be the most effective tool we could use and we should maybe put our focus in other areas,” Rogers said in an interview Friday.

She said speed is also a part of the equation.

“We need housing now,” she said.

More urgency and co-operation required

The New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights said in an emailed statement that it feels the city is moving in the right direction on some of its policies.

“They’ve discussed a variety of inclusionary zoning tools (and are now focused on densification bonuses), seeding and supporting community organizations, providing land specifically for affordable housing, and advocating for enhanced renter protections,” said Angus Fletcher, who is with the coalition.

“We think there is potential in some of these policies, but that the city is not treating this affordability crisis with the urgency required.”

Fletcher said the city’s data shows that government concerns over the rent cap possibly deterring development are not founded.

In late November, the minister responsible for housing, Jill Green, said the rent cap “wasn’t having the desired effect,” and when pressed further by reporters, she said it was deterring developers.

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“The current environment results in a lot of housing being built, and very little of it being affordable,” Fletcher said.

The city has a housing affordability implementation plan for 2023 that does include zoning flexibility. Rogers said she understands the urgency of the crisis.

“It’s (a) crisis,” she said. “The pricing, even when we looked at the jump of costs in Fredericton, it’s too much for a person to bear – really given that salaries are not keeping up with the increased costs of housing.”

She said the next step is to hire a housing development specialist. The position will help the planning and development offices, which are dealing with record levels of development.

For Rogers, all levels of government must be on the same page.

“We have to pay attention to unintentional consequences,” she said.

“Because some things that are being done are then going to have a negative ripple effect. So, I would say all three levels of government have to be very cognizant that every move we make in this sector impacts another.”

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