Imagine the shock if we were to wake to an overnight 50 per cent increase in fuel prices, making it $1.53/Litre to fill our gas tanks? Numerous tenants across New Brunswick are facing an even more urgent and distressful situation as New Brunswick property owners benefit from a hot housing market that has left tenants with exorbitant and unaffordable rents.
Never has it been more apparent that housing should be treated as a human right and not a commodity.
Last December, CBC reported that Moncton tenants were facing a 62 per cent rent hike when a Québec company bought their apartment complex. Also last month, CBC reported that Fredericton-area senior Bernadette McGregor was facing a $400 increase in her rent: a 50 per cent increase. Meanwhile, the incomes of McGregor and other tenants have not been increasing so it is likely they will be faced with the impossible task of looking for a new home during a pandemic when New Brunswick has gone from yellow to orange to a possible red in one week.
New Brunswick’s Social Development Department is aware of the barriers facing New Brunswickers in this changing housing market. They, along with other stakeholders, participated in Moncton’s 2019 Community Implementation Plan for Affordable Housing that was supposed to address inadequacies in social housing.
The housing needs assessment identified several groups who are more likely to face problems being able to afford housing: people living alone, youth-led households, lone-parent households, households with a person with a disability, immigrant households, and Indigenous households. The report paid special attention to women who generally have lower incomes, noting that the number of single women in the Greater Moncton area receiving social assistance rose by 15 per cent from 2008 to 2013.
The report shows clearly that strategic efforts are required to ensure private rental units remain affordable to households with low and moderate incomes. The report noted that “landlords who currently have rent supplement agreements with the Province may decide not to renew these agreements and opt to increase rents as the demand for these units continues to increase.” While some communities are seeing a decrease in homelessness, the Moncton area has developers pushing working poor and low-income renters to the streets in favour of high market rents.
When I voiced my concerns to Minister of Social Development Bruce Fitch, also my MLA representing Riverview, for the need for rent control in the province, he told me that the province does not want to discourage business. Clearly out of touch with the economic reality of many New Brunswickers, Fitch went so far as to suggest that New Brunswickers “would take advantage of historical low interest rates and buy a house.”
There are clear winners and losers in New Brunswick’s hot housing market. Take a property owner of five ten-unit dwellings. By increasing their tenants’ rent by $350/month, the property owner, probably based outside the province, would be raking in an additional $42,000 per building on top of their current revenue. Even after an increase in property tax, there is still a substantial amount of revenue leaving the province. And, what about the tenants?
A tenant whose rent just increased by $350/month is also facing ever-increasing costs of living as their incomes remain stagnant. For those making minimum wage, $11.70/hour in this province, the lowest in Atlantic Canada, the rent hikes could render those with precarious incomes homeless. Furthermore, tenants will soon no longer be able to rely on the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to pay their rent and Premier Higgs is refusing to reinstate a moratorium on evictions as COVID reaches its highest levels in the province.
As tenants struggle with housing and potential homelessness, New Brunswick property owners are taking advantage of the hot housing market by carrying out renovictions, which means that they are evicting their tenants to renovate and increase the value of their properties. The newly renovated properties are likely to be unaffordable to the present dwellers in the future.
It was only a year ago New Brunswick officially assumed the title of Canada’s poorest province. The province is set to receive the most funding per capita from the federal government’s equalization support program. However, Premier Higgs has a long record of refusing to accept federal funds needed to meet the basic needs of New Brunswickers, including funds for housing, health care and transportation.
Besides cooperating with all levels of government to ensure the housing needs of New Brunswickers are met, Premier Higgs, it’s time to reinstate a moratorium on evictions during COVID, introduce rent control, and ban renovictions.
Helen Chenell is a resident of Riverview.