As rent rises, Moncton council has more affordable housing questions for developers

A crane rises over downtown Moncton where a trio of 15-storey towers are planned. It was among several project proposals where councillors and planning committee members have asked about affordable housing.  (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
A crane rises over downtown Moncton where a trio of 15-storey towers are planned. It was among several project proposals where councillors and planning committee members have asked about affordable housing. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

Will it include affordable housing? It's a question Moncton councillors and the city's planning committee are asking more often as they examine plans for scores of apartment buildings.

"Absolutely, it's coming up more and more," Mayor Dawn Arnold said in an interview Monday. "From councillors and the public."

Steep increases in rent and demolition of rooming houses in the city have led to the question asked alongside more traditional topics like landscaping, traffic and parking.

The question was asked in May when the city's planning committee considered plans for a trio of 15-storey buildings downtown. It was asked when the committee considered plans for nine apartment buildings near Centennial Park last month. It was asked Monday by two councillors about separate buildings.

But, there was little or no information in response Monday. In one case, a representative for the developer said the information wasn't available. In the other case, the developer wasn't at the meeting. Councillors voted in favour of both projects.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Deputy mayor Charles Leger was one of the councillors who asked about affordable housing while council considered a rezoning for two buildings with 90 and 145 residential units off Main Street.

He said in response to the question, some developers are saying yes.

"The question then becomes, what is your definition of affordable housing?" Leger said.

Coun. Daniel Bourgeois asked city staff during a discussion of a 116-unit apartment building proposed on Morton Avenue whether the city has specific affordable housing targets.

We try to encourage developers to provide more affordable housing units. - Bill Budd, Moncton's director of planning and development

Bill Budd, the city's director of planning and development, said it doesn't.

"There has been a lot of discussion about this and how to address it, but currently we don't," Budd said. "We try to encourage developers to provide more affordable housing units."

Beyond asking and encouraging, the city says it doesn't have the tools to force developers to include affordable units.

Municipalities say mandating a percentage of affordable units, known as inclusionary zoning, requires changes in provincial law. In March, a spokesperson for the province said that it would be considered as part of broader municipal reforms expected to be outlined this fall.

Arnold said she's hopeful the province will allow cities to use that tool.

"I'm quite happy to hear that the province is taking it very seriously," Arnold said. "This has to be done on a province-wide basis. It has to be consistent and fair across all jurisdictions."

The city has a grant program for developers that offsets the cost of municipal building permits and other fees based on the proportion of a structure that has affordable housing. But it depends on developers wanting to include affordable housing. Arnold has previously said uptake with the grant program has been low.

Budd has previously said the city will examine another option called "density bonusing" similar to Fredericton.

That would allow a developer to go ahead with a building that exceeds some bylaw limits like height or density if they include some affordable units.

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