No immediate relief to housing issues in southern NB: report

·8 min read

Towns in southern New Brunswick are working to bring a change to the housing market, but there are no temporary solutions to the crisis of current lack of housing options.

While the whole country is trying to keep up with housing and rental needs of the population, the time taken to build these homes is stressful for those in immediate need. An increase in demand and low inventory has left many struggling and many who can't buy a property are having a hard time being able to rent one.

Shyanne Frances Bradley is one such frustrated resident. The Saint John resident and her two teenage children can't get into social housing after a series of misfortunes over the last few months, including being evicted from her apartment just after Christmas, and Bradley pointed to people moving from other cities as one of the factors impacting her chances of getting an affordable apartment.

Add the stress of only being able to find only minimum wage jobs and Bradley said "that barely covers my rent. I have to guess which month I can pay my hydro."

Low inventory and increasing population have made it a seller's market, where people like Bradley are nowhere ahead.

"I am doing everything I can for my family, and it's not good enough," she stated.

Bradley is now in a $1,400-a-month apartment, while she brings home $270 weekly in employment insurance because she feels that's her only option at this point. Her family is using food banks, and she is not able to find anything affordable or get any help.

"I can't do it anymore, I need it, and nobody will listen," she stressed. "I need housing."

Although the prices are impacting people everywhere, smaller towns in southwest New Brunswick are suffering more.

According to this year's update of the Southwest New Brunswick 2020 municipal housing study, there is a major requirement for more inventory and many towns have seen a population boom. Some places have a better vacancy rate than others but are still in a need of immediate attention.

What is the housing situation like in southwestern New Brunswick?

"It's bad," answered Xander Gopen, senior planner at the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission.

Gopen said that there is an inadequate amount of the right types of housing in the communities for the current market. The options available do not cater to the types of employment, social issues, health concerns and more of the present population. Simply put, more affordable and accessible multi-unit housing is required.

There are a lot of single-family homes for sale, at comparatively lower prices from other parts of Canada, in New Brunswick, but not enough affordable rentals. This puts the working population at a high risk of securing affordable housing.

"When you don't have enough of the right types of housing, those issues get worse and that's the situation we are in here," said Gopen.

The housing study states that a healthy vacancy range is widely considered to be within three to five per cent. The report performed no calculations for the communities that had a rate exceeding five per cent. St. Stephen, as of early 2022 data, has a 2.5 per cent vacancy rate with nine vacant units, requiring 25 to 43 more to create a balance. St. George reported one vacant unit and a rate of 1.4 per cent with six to 10 required units.

The town of Saint Andrews has a four per cent vacancy rate with no required units according to the report, but the available vacant units in the market are two. Gopen said although the vacancy rate is healthy the available units are just two. Since the sample sizes are small the percentages can often be misleading, he said.

"The point of having a healthy vacancy rate is to have a good amount of options. Saint Andrews, St. Stephen and St. George have the biggest needs right now in terms of demands," said Gopen.

The study stated, "47% of renters in Saint Andrews reported spending over 30% of their income on housing. The availability of rental housing in Saint Andrews was viewed to be very low for both rentals and owners (71% and 55% respectively)."

Gopen mentioned that developers in the area have shown an interest but are more skilled in making traditional houses. Outside developers find it a challenge to work here as things get more complicated with the bylaws, permits, energy and building codes, filling 10 to 15-page applications, labour, investments and historical heritage.

He said there is not enough emergency housing in the communities and there are no temporary solutions. These resources are essential, along with enough inventory for rentals that need to be built.

"Bringing in trailers into a field, basically, that's sort of the only thing I can see right now," said Gopen talking about the situation of emergency housing in the area.

The residential survey for Blacks Harbour, Campobello, Grand Manan, and St. George combined its data due to limited responses. The survey found 33 per cent of renters and 65 per cent of owners felt that their current housing meets their needs in these areas. The availability of rental housing in these townships was viewed to be very low for both rentals and owners (78 per cent and 65 per cent respectively), according to the study.

Projections for St. George indicate the population is anticipated to increase by six per cent from 2021 to 2026 leading to an increase in the number of households. There were 700 households in St. George in 2021, in 2026 there is anticipated to be 765.

Jason Gaudet, the chief administrative officer at the Town of St. George, said at its vacancy rate of 1.4 per cent, there is a need for every type of housing in the area from single-family dwellings, to multi-unit apartment buildings, to senior apartments and assisted living accommodations.

Conversations are ongoing in the municipality and the town is interested in working with developers, he said. That interest, however, has been hampered by inflation costs and the town's navigation of the current local governance reform.

"The staff is stretched on normal day-to-day files with the municipality, but now we are having to focus on the elements involving reforms," he said. "The biggest factor that we are seeing is the increase in cost and labour shortage."

According to Gaudet, there is a demand, but this is not the right time to be able to focus on housing completely. He mentioned there are incentives that the town has put out for developers. They have seen interest and will be working on it in the future.

"I don't think we are at crisis," Gaudet said. "We are not hearing people say they have no place to live."

Mayor Brad Henderson of Saint Andrews said the town is in constant talks with many developers and the residents can expect some change in the situation in "365 days to two years."

The ability to bring change in one community can increase options and reduce a little pressure on the neighbouring communities. Members of the town council are focused on housing and are in talks with the neighbouring towns and villages for being able to move the needle in the housing market, said Henderson.

Henderson it is a problem that the whole area is suffering from, and the building is at record-high prices making it a challenge to stick to "the term affordable." The study shows Saint Andrews' total population declined marginally between 2006 and 2016, but experienced a dramatic 15 per cent increase from 2016 to 2021. To cater to this influx the town is currently working on two developments and has a 42-unit apartment complex proposal from Compass Housing Inc., a local developer.

Town council has asked residents to weigh in on the proposal requesting input with a July 29 deadline before making any decisions on the development as an amendment in a zoning bylaw requires.

The majority of letters received from the community so far are in favour of the development and the response has been positive. People are curious and have questions about the design and structure and are seeking if it will fit within the community, explained Paul Nopper, town clerk - senior administrator for Saint Andrews.

Compass Housing Inc. owner Tressa Bevington owns two other multi-unit buildings in Saint Andrews and St. Stephen. She grew up in Saint Andrews and said she wants to give back to the community.

She said with the new 42-unit proposal they are aiming to build one and two-bedroom units with an open concept. People will be within a walking distance of downtown.

Bevington said not many developers are stepping up to work in these small areas or helping the local developers as it is a challenge to carry out such big projects but stressed she has a good team and is more familiar with the area as she has already built two large projects in the region.

"It is a good business to be in, but it is definitely a labour of love because of my love for the area," she said.

Bevington said many businesses are suffering in the area as they do not have enough employees that can come and stay in the area to work. Also, a lot of people had to leave Saint Andrews, since they could not find an affordable place in their own town.

"I think that housing should be something that everyone has access to, and they should be able to live in what area they want to live in," she said.

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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