A group representing tenants is calling on the provincial government to declare a state of emergency over the lack of low-income housing in New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights issued the statement after Public Safety Minister Kris Austin quashed an emergency declaration from St. Stephen, a small community in southwest New Brunswick.
“Clearly, we are in a rapidly developing homelessness crisis — a symptom of the affordable housing crisis — and Mr. Austin refuses even to acknowledge that it is an emergency, let alone set about trying to do something about it,” said Kristi Allain, a spokesperson for the coalition, in a statement.
The Municipal District of St. Stephen declared the state of local emergency over homelessness in the community on Dec. 4, citing “the Government of New Brunswick’s failure,” as reported by the CBC.
The declaration followed the death of Adam Dickerson, who was homeless. Dickerson was reportedly found in need of immediate medical attention in a local park the previous weekend.
Mayor Allan MacEachern said between 70 and 100 people were experiencing homelessness in the community.
In a letter to the mayor, Austin reportedly stated that “no state of local emergency exists in St. Stephen, and none existed on December 4th when your council declared one to exist.”
Austin has also said that a state of emergency declaration would not help solve the problem. And in the Legislative Assembly, he blamed the federal government and “leftist agendas that are degrading our society.”
But the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights said the province has failed to act, “focussing instead on tax cuts to landlords — the largest of which saves millions each year on taxes without adding anything to the housing stock in the province.”
The coalition cited urban homelessness figures which rose from at least 358 in April 2021 to 659 in April of this year, according to the Saint John-based Human Development Council.
That figure had reached 812 by November.
The coalition also pointed to “record increases in food insecurity” at New Brunswick food banks, citing recent data from Food Banks Canada.
The coalition has called for rent control legislation, saying it would help to halt the loss of affordable housing in New Brunswick.
The Higgs government implemented a rent cap temporarily in 2022, but it expired at the end of the year.
Rental inflation in New Brunswick has, since then, increased by over nine per cent, according to the coalition, “double the rate of inflation and significantly higher than the majority of Canadians, who live in rent-controlled provinces.”
In July, the province announced its housing strategy, titled Housing for All (PDF), which introduced measures such as a rent bank and a “direct-to-tenant benefit,” but without any rent control measures.
Amid controversy over the state of emergency declaration last week, the province issued a six-month update on measures taken since the plan was announced.
Social Development Minister Jill Green said the province would launch its new rent bank, which will provide grants to renters facing “temporary, unexpected financial hardships.” Applications will be accepted starting on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the coalition stated that New Brunswick loses an average of 33 units of housing affordable for people on low incomes every week, as investors “reposition” housing stock to generate higher incomes.
The group also noted that growth in the waiting list for subsidized housing over the past year alone has massively surpassed the planned construction of 380 new subsidized units.
“In September 2022, the list was reported as 8,700 households,” the coalition stated.
“At the end of June this past year, Minister Jill Green acknowledged the list had grown to above 11,000 households.”