The mother of a young daughter who lives in a three-bedroom home on Squire Street appealed to town council last night for help in solving Sackville’s housing crisis.
Ashley Legere, who works for a non-profit organization finding housing for 185 homeless people in Moncton, says she is now facing homelessness herself.
“As of Saturday, my rental has been sold and I have three months to move out of my home, the only home my daughter has ever known,” she told council.
Legere explained that her rent is $1250 per month including utilities, but that so far, the only comparable housing she can find in Sackville is an unaffordable $2400 monthly with nothing included.
She said she lives in Sackville because the town is a safe place for families and she knows from first-hand experience with her homeless clients in Moncton that the shelters there are scary places.
“The thought of having to give my daughter to someone, so I could end up there, is terrifying,” she said.
“I have a very good job, I’m educated, I’m articulate, I work very hard,” she added, “and the thought of having to leave here or be homeless here is unacceptable.”
Affordable housing group
Aside from her work with the homeless in Moncton, Legere serves as president of the board of directors at Sackville’s Playschool Inc., a licensed early childhood program, and last night at council, she spoke as a member of the newly formed Tantramar Affordable Housing Initiative.
Alice Cotton, who helped organize the initiative, told council there are almost no apartments available in Sackville.
“Seniors, people on a fixed income and people on welfare cannot find anything appropriate to their income and needs, and many have had to resort to living with family members in substandard conditions, or couch surf, and eventually leave Sackville, thereby losing the connections and supports they had in this community,” Cotton said.
She added that many houses with apartments are being converted into single family homes, creating a shortage of rental units even as Sackville’s population increases and Mount Allison is preparing this fall for its largest influx of students in 20 years.
Cotton said that rising rents have created hardship.
“Social assistance income for a couple is about $850 per month, most rents for a one-bedroom apartment are above this amount, leaving nothing for other basic needs like food,” she explained.
“Since September, the Sackville Food Bank has added 51 new households, increasing by 50 per cent.”
Cotton appealed to town council to consider granting permission for mini-homes, recreational vehicles or other temporary structures while working on longer-term housing solutions.
Meantime, council heard from Reginald Beal, a father of three young children, a lifelong Sackville resident and full-time worker, who has been looking for housing for the last six months.
“I’ve been told by multiple different people here in Sackville that they don’t want to rent to families,” he said. “It’s students only.”
He said he’s tried everything, but there’s nothing available.
“I just want somewheres to be able to take my family and call it home,” he added.
“It’s very scary, it’s a very serious situation,” he said. “We need solutions, we need help.”
Later, Teresa Estabrooks told council she left an apartment where she paid only $350 because it had rats.
“I came down with parasites because rats were living in my apartment,” she said, adding that after she moved into another apartment, she had to leave when the building was was sold.
“I’ve gone through H-E-L-L the last couple of months, not knowing where I was going to live.”
Estabrooks said she is on a fixed income.
“I’m 52-years-old and they put me in a seniors’ home, that’s how the housing is here in this town,” she added.
“I took it because I had to, but I’m not ready yet.”
Members of council agreed that the lack of affordable housing is a major problem in Sackville as well as across New Brunswick and in other parts of Canada.
Deputy Mayor Andrew Black said the town should be ready to respond when promised federal construction money becomes available in Ottawa’s new $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund.
Councillor Sabine Dietz suggested that the Tantramar Affordable Housing Initiative invite one or two councillors to its meetings as representatives so they can keep the rest of council up to date on the latest discussions.
She also suggested that council should require developers to include affordable rental units as part of new housing projects when the province carries through on its promise to allow municipalities to do this.
Councillors Bruce Phinney and Bill Evans promised to help in any ways they could.
“It’s outrageous that anybody can be working full time and not be able to afford housing,” Evans said.
“That has to be fixed and that’s something that is beyond a municipal mandate, but the fact that we can’t deal with that explicitly doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do and so, I personally, can commit to working with you to do something, whatever we can do, to help resolve this crisis.”
To read Alice Cotton’s presentation to council on behalf of the Tantramar Affordable Housing Initiative, click here.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared on August 4, 2021.