Just how unaffordable is housing in New Brunswick?

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For far too long, affordable housing has been on New Brunswick’s back burner. New Brunswick has a market primed for selling. As a result, thousands of landlords each year are selling their affordable apartment complexes, which in turn leads to tens of thousands of families without a place to live. 

(Emma McPhee/Telegraph-Journal)

Housing and rental prices through the roof in 2021

New Brunswickers are calling for rent control, social housing strategies, and government intervention. In 2021, houses in parts of New Brunswick are selling for 30 per cent above the asking price, according to figures released by the Greater Moncton Realtors. 

In February 2021, the value of housing sales in Moncton shockingly increased 88 per cent from February 2020. However, the number of marketed houses was down 15 per cent for the month. The average selling price for a home in Greater Moncton is currently $259,587, according to Ryan Davison, the president-elect of Greater Moncton Realtors. 

Housing being purchased by out-of-province buyers

In an interview released by Global News in March, Davidson explained that many of the buyers are coming from larger areas like Toronto, where people are selling their homes for big money and headed for cheaper homes on the east coast.

He said some people are continuing to work for employers outside of the province while working from their new homes in New Brunswick, while others are choosing to retire early.

“Retirees seem to be pulling out of Ontario markets sooner than planned to capitalize on high prices there and secure a nice nest egg with the difference in what they do not have to spend in N.B.”

Since the early summer, landlords have been capitalizing on this market, either selling or increasing rent prices beyond liveable standards. 

Impacts on local residents

An anonymous UNB Saint John student shared their story: 

“In July I was given notice by my landlord that my 5-year-old son and I had to vacate our apartment. They wanted to sell while the market was still good. They gave us no time. I had just registered my son for kindergarten and now I was faced with the struggle of finding a home after being at my apartment for six and a half years. I felt like a terrible parent because I didn’t want the move to negatively affect my child… but I would look around and all I could think about was him and where we would go because I had no idea.” 

Current provincial initiatives not enough

New Brunswick’s Social Development minister explained to Global News that housing is typically a joint responsibility between the federal and provincial governments. 

However, current government initiatives don’t seem to be cutting it; census numbers between 2011 and 2016 show New Brunswick lost 4,700 affordable rental units overall; Moncton had a loss of 1,400, Fredericton lost 1,300 and Saint John lost 870. 

While the 2021 census numbers aren’t yet available, the affordable market rental loss has only accelerated since 2016. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada reported that rents paid in New Brunswick had risen by 4.8 per cent between March 2020 and March 2021, the largest increase in the country.

The unified Saint John Housing Co-operative’s 14-unit building is on Victoria Street (GNB/Website)

Tenants facing sharp rent increases

Rebecca Train from Saint John is a single mother who has also had an experience with the affordable housing crisis. She lived in her four-bedroom apartment for five years, paying $850 per month. In March of 2021, her building was sold and the new landlord posted a letter on her door advising the rent would more than double to $1,800 as of December 1.

“I will not be able to manage the increase,” Train told CBC. “I work a full-time job and a part-time job and still could not swing $1,800 a month. I can understand a moderate increase with the cost of living, but $1,800…”

A review of rentals in the province completed by the Higgs government in May included 12 recommendations, but none of them included a rent cap.

Issues for newcomers

Many newcomers to Saint John also face the added stress of not finding a place that will rent to families with children. The rental market has undoubtedly changed since the pandemic began, adding even more stress to those searching for a place to live.

A common problem with newcomers is that the family composition is larger than the average Canadian family, so they would need a place for at least two or three kids with them. Thus, some end up paying more than half their monthly income toward paying rent.

New Brunswick’s housing shortage is not just an immigration issue but one that is impacting the working class, international students, and domestic students alike. 

New Brunswick’s Social Development minister says that while housing is typically a joint responsibility, 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.

Project Launch Photo: Affordable Housing Action Plan. (City of Saint John/Website)

Affordable housing in Saint John

In August the city of Saint John released their “Affordable Housing Action Plan Project”. The project is designed to identify and address supply and affordability gaps in the city’s housing continuum.

The project involves several affordable housing partners, such as the Saint John Land Bank, Saint John Non-Profit Housing, Human Development Council, Housing Alternatives, and Envision Saint John.

The project is expected to focus on specific sections of the housing continuum, including transitional and supportive housing, non-market rental housing, and low-income rental housing, according to project manager Mark O’Hearn.

A housing needs assessment will be conducted over the coming months, which O’Hearn said will involve workshops with more than three dozen stakeholders and a public survey.

The information from the needs assessment will be compiled into an action plan which is due to be released in May 2022.