I’m writing as a Fredericton resident deeply concerned about the housing inequalities in our city. We have an opportunity to reshape the future of Fredericton with a decision that you will be called upon to make very soon.
On the agenda at the next City council meeting, on Monday, March 28, is a motion to approve the NBEX Secondary Municipal Plan that requires some affordable housing in the redevelopment of the NBEX grounds. I’m asking you to either a) delay the vote until the City’s Affordable Housing Strategy is presented to the community, or b) adjust the definition and mandate of affordable housing in the NBEX Plan to match the Fredericton Housing Needs Assessment that will inform the Affordable Housing Strategy.
During the NBEX Secondary Municipal Plan consultations, held with the general public and stakeholders, the most resounding theme heard was that Fredericton is in critical need of affordable housing. This significant desire was made clear with 448 people indicating affordable housing as a priority, ahead of outdoor uses and open space.
However, the NBEX Plan does not reflect this overwhelming desire by the community to make affordable housing the focus of the site development. Instead, we have the completely inadequate definition and mandate of “affordable housing” requiring that “a minimum of 20% of the residential units provided within the plan area are affordable,” defined as “a minimum of 10% below market rates for a minimum of 15 years.” The other references to affordable housing are “encouraged” but not required.
In contrast, the Fredericton Housing Needs Assessment uses the long-standing and easily understood metric that housing is affordable when the combination of applicable costs (rent + utilities, or mortgage + insurance + property tax + utilities) are no greater than 30% of a household’s pre-tax income. This measure is a housing indicator tracked by Statistics Canada via the Census.
Currently, the need for affordable housing is dire in Fredericton. At a community meeting on March 23, Mayor Rogers said that the City’s needs assessment revealed that Fredericton requires about 2,500 reasonably priced affordable housing units, and 1,500 subsidized social units, in addition to housing for the many who are chronically homeless. The NBEX Plan is an opportunity to provide housing for the many people these high numbers represent, but currently it does not.
We need non-market solutions for our housing crisis. Mayor Kate Rogers indicated at the recent meeting that the current approach of relying on the private sector to provide reasonably priced, affordable dwellings within their market rate developments is not a successful method to respond to the growing housing needs. Rather, we require non-market housing solutions to address housing needs.
The Council’s decision on the future of the NBEX is the most important action that can be quickly taken to address the housing crisis that many individuals, including the most marginalized in our community, are confronted with. At the community meeting, Mayor Rogers echoed this perspective: “In the short-term we will do everything that we can to improve housing availability and affordability. Our role as a City is to be proactive in our work to support initiatives that intend to deal with systemic and structural barriers that keep people from leading their best lives and advocate and actionize long term solutions that ensure housing for all.”
The opportunities that could come out of the NBEX grounds are immense and this piece of land should be leveraged in a way that is best for the community to help solve the affordability and housing crisis in our city.
I agree with Mayor Rogers: I know the power of community and what can be done by the nonprofit sector. I see how the community has already come together to create innovative solutions for people in housing crisis and I know that with the city’s strategic leadership, and the financial support of the provincial and federal governments, this will be further advanced.
We need the strategic leadership that the mayor is talking about. To be strategic, the Council must delay the vote on the NBEX Plan, or change the “Affordable Housing” definition and mandate in the NBEX Plan to match the Fredericton Housing Needs Assessment.
Robert Sheidow is an organizer with Solidarité Fredericton.