Purchase of Saint John affordable housing units by for-profit company panned by advocacy group

·4 min read
VIDA Living has acquired 133 affordable housing units in Saint John, including units located on Shamrock Court.  (Hugh Goodday/VIDA Living - image credit)
VIDA Living has acquired 133 affordable housing units in Saint John, including units located on Shamrock Court. (Hugh Goodday/VIDA Living - image credit)

A Halifax-based property management company has acquired over 100 multifamily units in Saint John.

VIDA Living, a for-profit company, finalized a purchase of 1058 units in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from the Telus investment arm on June 24.

But a tenants' rights group says a for-profit company doesn't hold the solution to New Brunswick's affordable housing issues.

The units previously owned by the Telus investment fund were the subject of a CBC investigation that showed how tenants were routinely evicted for being behind on the rent, even by as little as a few hundred dollars.

Hugh Goodday, Chief Growth Officer for VIDA, says the new owner's business model is "doing good business by doing good in [their] community."

"We think that the investment we do make is the most impactful use of tenants' dollars. And it provides them with the building that they would like to live in," said Goodday.

Hugh Goodday
Hugh Goodday

While the units in Saint John are still being managed by the previous management company, VIDA will assume responsibility eventually, says Goodday.

VIDA offers a unique model for affordable housing by employing their own tenants as 'building ambassadors' and creating a community feel to multi-family residences. The company also screens tenants to ensure that they are aligned with VIDA Living's 'core values'.

VIDA also offers tenants opportunities to get involved in building maintenance as well as incentives for milestone achievements, such as starting a business or purchasing a new home.

Goodday said VIDA looks at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) guidelines for affordability but makes its own decisions on what is an affordable rent.

Brandi Bond, who moved into a VIDA unit in Halifax in February with two young children, says she was relieved to find VIDA after a grueling search for an apartment she could afford.

"Rent is absolutely insane," she said. "I came across a VIDA ad and the price was just amazing."

Brandi Bond
Brandi Bond

The rent for Bond's two-bedroom apartment is $890, but she receives a $150 discount on her rent for taking on cleaning responsibilities for the building.

According to the CMHC's Rental Market Report, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Halifax in 2020 was $1,255.

Bond says living in a VIDA building has been good for her young children. The residence is equipped with a family room that has laundry amenities as well as a video games set up.

"It's a very family-oriented place," said Bond.

Tenants group not sold on idea

Matthew Hayes from the New Brunswick Tenants' Advocacy Group says New Brunswick can't rely on private companies like VIDA to address the affordability crisis.

"I know they talk a good game in terms of trying to address affordability in housing, but the private sector does not offer a solution and this firm is no exception," said Hayes.

Hayes says that while the language they use around creating a safe community may sound appealing, these extra hurdles can bar people who need housing from getting it.

Tori Weldon/CBC
Tori Weldon/CBC

"It's kind of a way of screening out tenants who will increase costs associated with maintenance and focusing on providing what they call affordable housing to people who will not increase those costs," he said.

"This is not a rights-based housing approach at all."

Hayes says private companies have been getting into the affordable housing market recently, with the backing of financial institutions looking for a return on their investments.

"This is a new type of capitalism that has taken off in the last decade. There's a growing number of firms that are able to offer institutional investors an ownership share in housing," said Hayes.

In VIDA's press release, Price Capital Partners, BMO and Timbercreek Financial are mentioned as financial partners, but the details surrounding these partnerships are unclear.

Hayes says dealing with affordability requires a public solution - rather than a private one - that involves rethinking the government's role in housing.

"The alternative would be to ensure that there's enough public investment in housing," he said.

"Public housing in other places in the world has largely been just housing stock that is owned by the public, that's maintained by the public, and that is at various price levels."

Affordable housing is the most important public policy question that Canada is facing right now, says Hayes.

"It's a national story of very important proportions. What's happening in New Brunswick with this firm is happening in other cities and other provinces with other firms."

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