Over 6,000 New Brunswickers are on a waiting list for affordable housing while the province is likely to face more challenges meeting housing needs with the expiration of federal funding support.
New Brunswick currently provides 14,000 units of affordable housing, nowhere near close to the demand, which has been assessed to be 30,000 New Brunswickers in need of core housing, according to Tim Ross, Executive Director of the New Brunswick Non-Profit Housing Association.
“There is much more demand for affordable housing than what we can supply. There is a supply issue in New Brunswick and, indeed, across Canada,” explains Ross.
Nikita Hartt is a single parent and university student living in social housing in Fredericton. She says she was fortunate to get into a place because she met a number of criteria but that’s not the case for everyone. “I have friends, single moms, who were in some pretty rough positions that were worse than mine, and they had to wait up to three years for housing,” says Hartt.
Maintaining and expanding access to affordable housing has become an increasingly pressing issue throughout New Brunswick, with a government committed to reducing spending, and the impending expiry of federal funding agreements that have supported affordable housing in the province and throughout Canada for about 40 years.
“The expiry of social housing operating agreements is the expiry of federal housing subsidies to non-profit, public, and co-operative housing providers here in New Brunswick – affecting just over 10,000 units,” says Ross.
Of the 10,000 affordable housing units affected by the expiry of federal operating agreement subsidies, approximately two-thirds – or between 6,000-7,000 of these units – are expected to face “viability issues” in meeting their mandate of providing affordable housing to those in need.
According to Ross, housing providers facing financial viability issues will have three options: “increase rent, defer maintenance or sell buildings.”
Addressing New Brunswick’s serious lack of affordable housing through “innovation and creativity” was the topic of a recent meeting in Moncton, hosted by the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
The November 26 meeting – taking place within the context of National Housing Day on November 22 – included participation from all three levels of government, over 20 non-profit organizations, several private sector participants, and was open to the public.
Some of these innovative and creative initiatives include further involving municipalities and the private sector in affordable housing development, as well as supporting affordable housing through social enterprise and fundraising.
“The day was dedicated to how we can create more affordable housing, given the Province’s finances, and in terms of the expiry of the [federal] Operating Agreements. How can we be innovative and creative to create more housing?” explained Sue Calhoun, Community Development Officer for the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee, which helped co-sponsor the meeting with the CMHC.
Some existing examples of creative and innovative affordable housing initiatives include: the City of Moncton providing free land to the YWCA to build transitional housing for pregnant teens and young Moms, partnerships between non-profits and privately-owned rental housing, and rent-reductions arrangements with private landlords in exchange for acquiring tenants, thus helping reduce Moncton’s double-digit rental housing vacancy rates.
Presently, New Brunswick’s total affordable housing stock totals approximately 14,000 units that are operated by public, non-profit, co-operative, and private sectors.
According to the CMHC, housing is deemed “affordable” when costs do not exceed 30% of before-tax income. In 2011, the Statistics Canada found over 29,565 New Brunswickers to be in “core housing need,” according to any of the following criteria: “adequacy” (based on required repairs), “affordability,” (based on the 30% income threshold), or “suitability” (based on housing size and capacity).
Calhoun also spoke to the impacts of financial viability issues on affordable housing providers: “They won’t have a mortgage anymore,” she stated, referring to operating agreements as a capital investment, “but they’ll still have that big gap of the two thirds of rent that the federal government was paying. It’s a real disaster waiting to happen.”
Compounding these challenges is not only the age of New Brunswick’s total housing stock, but also the province’s aging population. Ross described this dilemma: “New Brunswick’s housing stock is a lot older than, for example, Saskatchewan, or other provinces. We have a lot of aging housing stock…maybe with a senior citizen paying exorbitant heating costs. Maybe there are accessibility challenges.”
The recently renewed Federal-Provincial Investment in Affordable Housing Funding Agreement, with costs shared between two levels of government, does provide a lifeline to New Brunswick’s affordable housing stock to the tune of 78 million dollars over 5 years.
In separate interviews, both Ross and Calhoun commended the 5 year renewal of the Federal-Provincial funding agreement on affordable housing.
In response to questions regarding affordable housing in New Brunswick, Kevin Price, Executive Assistant to Fredericton-Oromocto Conservative MP Keith Ashfield, also referred to the renewal of the Federal-Provincial funding agreement on affordable housing.
While Price also pointed out that under “Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013” the federal government will invest nationally 1.25 billion dollars over 5 years into affordable housing, he would not comment on whether or not federal operating agreements would be renewed, stating: “I can’t say that one way or the other, I don’t know that. All I know is that the province is still finishing up agreements with the federal government.”
Ross emphasizes the cumulative funding losses in New Brunswick alone associated with the expiry of federal social housing operating agreements, explaining, “Over the next 20 years, there will be a cumulative loss of over 699 million dollars in operating subsidies to New Brunswick’s affordable housing portfolio.”
At the present time, New Brunswickers such as Calhoun and others present at the November 26 meeting are left to seek out alternative means of funding and creating affordable housing, as federal operating agreements continue to expire.