Housing shortage in the way of newcomers helping with worker shortage

Housing in New Brunswick is in short supply. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Housing in New Brunswick is in short supply. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

To government, newcomers are part of the solution to the country's labour shortage, but settlement support organizations says another shortage, that of housing, stands in the way of that goal.

The Miramichi Regional Multicultural Association issued an advisory this week to newcomers about the housing shortage in the province.

"Available housing is at critically low levels," said the advisory on the organization's website and social media.

"It is strongly recommended that individuals planning to move to Miramichi secure housing arrangements in advance of their arrival."

While both rural and urban areas are grappling with the housing crisis, the problem in Saint John has not reached the point of advising newcomers to commit to a home or apartment before seeing it in person, said Lina Gharbiya, anglophone newcomer settlement lead with the Saint John Newcomers Centre.

She said that's because there are short-term rental properties available where people can stay while they search.

"There is a crisis, but we're not that bad yet," she said. "But my gosh, it's really, really hard for people to find a place, even for locals."

Craig Silliker, executive director of the Miramichi organization, said the advisory was necessary because people were arriving to the town and finding no housing.

"[We've] been increasingly getting phone calls, and people are showing up at our doorstep here at the RMA, and in Miramichi, with no place to live and no permanent accommodations," he told Information Morning Moncton.

The organization's advisory is also aimed at local employers, who are also facing challenges when hiring internationally.

"We've had even employers tell us that they've made job offers to newcomers, but they were unable to come because they were unable to find housing for them," Silliker said.

Last year, the New Brunswick vacancy rate fell from 3.1 per cent to 1.7 per cent. Housing is in short supply, especially affordable housing.

Silliker said all levels of government need to be focused on making sure people wanting to live in New Brunswick have a place to stay.

"We need newcomers here, you know, for a better community, and they need a place to live," he said.

Recent housing announcements

On Monday, the province and federal governments announced they will together fund an organization focused on finding more rural housing called Housing Hub of New Brunswick Inc.

With $1.6 million earmarked for funding, it will will have four employees who will look for development money, connect with developers and work with all levels of governments and private businesses to increase the number of available rental units.

The province has also announced $100 million toward building 380 affordable housing units and renovating 110 current units.

To grow the population, the province has previously announced its goal to welcome 10,000 new permanent residents to the province, each year, before the end of this decade.

Silliker said immigration numbers have been increasing even before this announcement. He said over 30 years, between 1980 to 2010, Miramichi had about 280 new immigrants.

But from 2016 to 2021, Miramichi saw 295 new residents who identified as immigrants.

"What had previously taken Miramichi area 30 years to accomplish from 1980 to 2010, it had now accomplished and actually [exceeded] in a five year period," he said.

He said counting Ukrainian newcomers fleeing the war, students and temporary workers, he said it's safe to say Miramichi has actually welcomed 600 newcomers in the last five years.

He said his organization tries to help people navigate the rental market, but luck plays a big role.

"Places are snapped very quickly, because besides the newcomers, we also had an influx of people from other parts of Canada," he said.

He said people who are moving to Miramichi should try to find a place before making the trip to their new town, and if that's impossible, budget to stay at a hotel for about a month or longer.