New Brunswickers are becoming increasingly familiar with the term “housing crisis.” The province has seen the second highest rent increases in the country, more than double that of the national average.
The impact of this ongoing crisis, which encompasses insecurity and vulnerability across the housing continuum, is being felt by an ever-broadening percentage of our population. It’s no longer if you will be vulnerable due to housing precarity, it’s when. Along with this general awareness, we need to understand what is contributing to this crisis.
The housing crisis has become ever more acute with the spread of COVID-19 since 2020. The impact of the rental housing crisis has seen increased media attention and more people are becoming aware of the flaws in our province’s rental regulations regime. In a growing number of cases, tenants are forced to choose between paying impossible rent increases or facing eviction – sometimes from places residents have called home for decades.
While some tenants have been able to vocalize against this injustice through organizing with local advocacy groups such as the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights and ACORN NB, more have been silenced due to weak tenant protections. The housing issue should be a priority for all New Brunswickers because it affects more of us than we may realize.
Rather than recognizing housing as a human right that should be upheld for all, our government supports the unfettered profiting by foreign and domestic Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) over New Brunswickers’ basic need for shelter. Activist and St. Thomas University Sociology Professor, Matthew Hayes, has written extensively on this issue. In a recent publication for the Journal of New Brunswick Studies, Hayes discusses the fallacy of relying on the free market to solve this crisis – especially in a New Brunswick context which severely lacks eviction protection for tenants or rent control legislation. This laissez-faire approach is what has led to the runaway rent increases we see today.
Many solutions to address the housing crisis have been put forth to the government, with little uptake. Among them are: (1) an overhaul of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA; assented to in 1975); (2) a robust rent control and eviction protection regime; (3) a functional residential tenancies tribunal (that is more than a mediation service between landlords and tenants); (4) legal aid and support clinics for tenants; and (5) funding for non-market housing. New Brunswickers are encouraged to sign ACORN’s petition demanding that the New Brunswick government institute rent control and eviction protections for tenants.
It is time to dispel the myth that more development equates to more housing for all. We know that New Brunswick has seen an increase in housing development, and yet we are still in a growing housing crisis. The vast majority of low-interest loans are appointed to private developers, with little to no affordability criteria. This underscores the fact that the housing crisis is not a housing supply issue, rather a lack of funds allocated to affordable and sustainable non-market housing development.
Possibilities for non-market housing alternatives need not be reinvented and are attainable solutions to address the housing crisis that are protected from the harms of the RTA. Among these are housing co-ops, community land trusts, and non-profit housing initiatives.
Co-operative housing has seen continued success in many countries and throughout Canada, with a quarter million Canadians living in housing co-operatives. Fredericton’s Pine Valley Housing Co-operative, which currently has a 5+ year waitlist – points at the obvious desire for co-op housing development in New Brunswick. Co-ops provide housing at cost, and monthly rent is determined by its members. While federal funding for co-op housing has been largely axed since the 1980s, agencies such as the Co-op Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) have been sustaining existing co-op housing, and have recently expanded to developing new co-op housing projects in Nova Scotia, despite tremendous challenges created by large real estate companies.
Housing vulnerability is engulfing more of the population than ever, yet tenants remain unprotected. Individualistic, profit-driven ideology does not allow for community to thrive. New Brunswick, and beyond, needs a change in collective consciousness about housing.
We believe that public awareness surrounding the social benefits of investing in people and communities, will bring understanding that housing is a human right, not an investment and profit opportunity. Considering the government’s projected surplus of $487.8 million for this fiscal year, hopefully New Brunswickers will question the legitimacy of any “lack of resource” arguments as reason for inaction in addressing 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 regarding affordable housing in New Brunswick in the coming weeks.