N.B. Housing Hub calls for $1 billion toward housing over the next 5 years

Click to play video: 'Report, opposition parties call for significant spending on housing in N.B.'
Report, opposition parties call for significant spending on housing in N.B.
WATCH: A new report is calling on the provincial government to spend a billion dollars over the next five years on housing in New Brunswick. The report comes as the province is poised to release its housing strategy. But opposition parties say they want to see significant spending attached to it. Silas Brown reports. – Jun 22, 2023

A new report from the New Brunswick Housing Hub is calling on the provincial government to spend $1 billion on housing over the next five years to create 10,000 new units.

The report is the third in a series looking at the housing situation in the province and calls for major spending to support non-profit community housing organizations to create affordable and mixed-income units.

“It is a big ask,” said Mylène Vincent, the chief development officer at the Housing Hub of New Brunswick.

“We’re looking at a balanced approach, a realistic approach and we’re hopeful that government will listen and act on it because this is our shot.”

While the price tag may seem eye-popping, Vincent says that the return on investment for housing is larger than almost any other social program.

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“The cost to government when you don’t solve for housing and how it affects other departments like health care, the punitive system, mental health addictions, all those things. Even the shelter system is very very expensive, we’re talking 30, 60 times that of investing in housing,” she said.

“That’s the short answer – the return on investment is the highest.”

The report says the government should retool the Affordable Rental Housing Program to give $100,000 per unit or 30 per cent of building costs to non-profit builders for developments that are at least 50 per cent affordable.

Other recommendations in the report include the development of a Community Option to Purchase Act (COPA), which would give non-profits the first chance to purchase a multi-unit building with affordable housing if it is being sold and a Community Land Trust (CLT) to help acquire lands and buildings that can be used for or leveraged to create housing.

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The report also calls for the province to support Regional Service Commissions with information on provincial housing needs and build capacity in the community housing sector.

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Crucially, the report also calls for a comprehensive labour strategy to attract skilled immigrants, support upskilling and credential recognition and retention in order to address labour shortages in the construction industry.

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“If any piece of the puzzle fails, the puzzle has a hole in it and that’s just not going to work,” she said. “It’s absolutely crucial for that to be taken care of.”

The province’s minister responsible for housing Jill Green has promised to release a new housing strategy by the end of the month. Liberal finance critic Rene Legacy says that he’s hoping to see a real sense of urgency in that strategy and a willingness for the government to financially support the actions it proposes.

“We’re always waiting for another month or always waiting for another report and as we keep waiting, the need becomes even worse,” he said.

Green housing critic Megan Mitton said she is hoping to see the type of sizable investment in housing that is called for in the Housing Hub report.

“There are certain things that need government intervention and need direct funds and housing is definitely one of them,” she said.

“We absolutely need to get away from the idea that the market will solve it on its own.”

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Both the Liberal and Green parties say they would favour the return of a cap on rents to help stabilize rental prices in the province and keep units affordable while additional housing is built. The report says rent guidelines can help in the short term but can have impacts on community housing providers. It says the idea is worth considering, but notes that programs like COPAs or CLTs can do more to maintain affordable prices in the long term.

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A previous report from the Housing Hub said that the province has lost at least 8,000 affordable units over the course of five years and Vincent says the province’s top priority should be to avoid that number slipping further as it implements plans to increase housing stock.

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