The Department of Social Development has removed a controversial survey that invited New Brunswickers to share their ideas for their next phase of a provincial affordable housing plan, saying it was a draft published by accident.
"We want to hear from New Brunswickers and from stakeholders in the affordable housing sector on how we can best contribute to the expansion and maintenance of affordable rental housing," Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said in the news release that included a link to the survey.
One of the questions asked respondents to rank groups according to their need for "housing support."
The list included, among others, people with addictions, individuals and families experiencing homelessness, seniors, Indigenous people and newcomers.
It was taken down on Tuesday night, along with the accompanying news release, after many complaints on social media.
Tobin LeBlanc Haley is a member of the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights. She is also an assistant professor at Ryerson University, which she calls X University because Egerton Ryerson, for whom it is named, is considered one of the primary architects of Canada's residential schools. LeBlanc Haley said it was ridiculous for the New Brunswick government to ask members of the public to judge who is most deserving of affordable housing.
"It was very clear that groups were being pitted against each other, because you had to rank which groups you thought were facing the most pressing housing issues," she said.
"There were a lot of questions that really should be answered specifically by the communities impacted."
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development wasn't able to say why the release was removed, or who was behind the design of the survey. Fitch was not available to do an interview.
First 3 years of action plan to add 151 new housing units
The upcoming affordable housing action plan is the second three-year plan under a 10-year, $299.2 million agreement between the province and Ottawa.
According to the redacted news release, "investments will be made to protect, renew and expand social and community housing."
In the first three-years of the larger agreement, which began in 2019, only 151 affordable housing units were expected to be added.
The province was not able to provide an update on how many of those units have been built.
The Department of Social Development said since 2019, approximately 6,000 provincially owned units, 1,700 non-profit units, and 138 units in facilities including homeless shelters have been renovated.
Close to 3,000 homeowners have also been assisted with repairs in their homes.
5,000-plus still on the waiting list
As of June 1, the waiting list for subsidizing housing in the province listed 5,766 households.
LeBlanc Haley said it's clear that New Brunswick is experiencing a housing crisis.
"Rents are unaffordable, and lone female parents experience disproportionate rates of deep poverty in this province," she said.
"We know that tenants continue to spend more of their income on shelter costs than homeowners, and with the rising rent that inequality is only growing."
Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Human Development Council in Saint John, said he hopes the new action plan will focus on preventing homelessness in the first place, and on helping those experiencing homelessness to move out of shelters.
"If we were able to transition more people out of shelters than the number entering the system each month, then over time we could actually eliminate chronic homelessness," he said.
"It's important to work on the prevention side to make sure people don't fall into homelessness, and that means having safe and affordable units, having tenants' rights acknowledged, and revamping the Residential Tenancies Act."