New Brunswickers are becoming increasingly familiar with the term “housing crisis”. The province has seen the second highest rent increase in the country, more than double the national average.
The impact of this ongoing crisis, which encompasses insecurity and vulnerability across the housing continuum, is being felt by an ever-increasing percentage of our population. It’s no more if you will be vulnerable due to the precariousness of housing, it is when. Along with this general awareness, we need to understand what is contributing to this crisis.
The housing crisis has become increasingly acute with the spread of COVID-19 since 2020. The impact of the rental housing crisis has drawn media attention and more and more people are becoming aware of the flaws in the our province’s rent control system. In a growing number of cases, tenants are being forced to choose between paying impossible rent increases or facing eviction – sometimes from places where residents have called home for decades.
While some tenants have been able to speak out against this injustice by organizing with local advocacy groups such as the New Brunswick Tenant Rights Coalition and ACORN NB, others have been silenced due to weak tenant protections. Housing should be a priority for all New Brunswickers because it affects more of us than we realize.
Rather than recognizing housing as a human right that should be respected for all, our government supports the absolute profit of foreign and domestic real estate investment trusts (REITs) on the basic housing need of New Brunswickers. Activist and professor of sociology at St. Thomas University, Matthew Hayes, has written extensively on this issue. In a recent publication for the New Brunswick Journal of Studies, Hayes discusses the fallacy of relying on the free market to solve this crisis – especially in a New Brunswick context that is sorely lacking in tenant eviction protections or rent control legislation. This laissez-faire approach is what led to the meteoric rent increases we see today.
Many solutions to solve the housing crisis have been proposed to the government, with little success. These include: (1) an overhaul of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA; assented to in 1975); (2) a strong rent control and eviction protection regime; (3) a functional residential lease tribunal (ie, more than a landlord-tenant mediation service); (4) legal aid and tenant support clinics; and (5) off-market housing finance. New Brunswickers are encouraged to sign ACORN’s petition demanding that the Government of New Brunswick institute rent control and eviction protections for tenants.
It’s time to dispel the myth that more development equals more housing for everyone. We know that New Brunswick has seen an increase in housing development, yet we are still in a growing housing crisis. The vast majority of low-interest loans are awarded to private developers, with little or no accessibility criteria. This underlines the fact that the housing crisis is not a problem of housing supply, but rather a lack of funds allocated to affordable and sustainable development of non-market housing.
Possibilities for off-market housing alternatives do not need to be reinvented and are feasible solutions to solving the housing crisis that are protected from the harms of RTA. These include housing co-operatives, community land trusts and non-profit housing initiatives.
Co-op housing has enjoyed continued success in many countries and across Canada, with a quarter of a million Canadians living in co-op housing. Fredericton’s Pine Valley Housing Co-operative, which currently has a waiting list of over 5 years, highlights the clear desire for co-op housing development in New Brunswick. The cooperatives provide housing at cost price and the monthly rent is determined by its members. While federal funding for co-op housing has been largely cut since the 1980s, organizations such as the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) have supported existing co-op housing and have recently expanded into development of new housing cooperatives. projects in Nova Scotia, despite the enormous challenges created by large real estate companies.
Housing vulnerability is affecting the population more than ever, but tenants remain unprotected. The individualistic and profit-driven ideology does not allow the community to thrive. New Brunswick, and beyond, needs a change in collective consciousness about housing.
We believe that raising public awareness of the social benefits of investing in people and communities will lead to an understanding that housing is a human right, not an opportunity for investment and profit. Given the government’s projected surplus of $487.8 million for this fiscal year, we hope that New Brunswickers will question the legitimacy of any “lack of resources” argument as a reason for inaction in the face of this crisis.
Liam Bunin, Marla McKenna, G. Zoe Plourd and Jessie-Lynn Wheadon are social work students at St. Thomas University. They will be producing a visual report of their research on affordable housing in New Brunswick over the next few weeks.