Saint Andrews battles housing crunch with $500K grant for new apartments

An artist's concept drawing of the proposed 42-unit apartment building in Saint Andrews. (Town of Saint Andrews - image credit)
An artist's concept drawing of the proposed 42-unit apartment building in Saint Andrews. (Town of Saint Andrews - image credit)

A project just given the green light by the Town of Saint Andrews will see a 42-unit apartment complex built by the end of next year with help from the town.

The Compass project is led by local developer, Xenia Housing, with help from a $500,000 municipal grant.

"It's very forward thinking of them," said Tressa Bevington, Xenia's president.

"If they weren't able to work with me, this project wouldn't be going ahead."

Housing was a top local issue in the last municipal election, said Mayor Brad Henderson, and council is taking "aggressive action."

"People in our community are tired of hearing other levels of government blame each other and nothing improves," he said.

Brad Henderson/Facebook
Brad Henderson/Facebook

"We're going to stop making excuses and we're going to do something because people in our community need it."

The last town budget designated $900,000 for housing.

Prior to the Compass project being approved at the site of the old Blue Moon Motel, lesser amounts were contributed toward infrastructure for a 25-unit garden home development at the corner of Bar Road and Mowat Drive and for 10 new housing units off Victoria Terrace, said Paul Nopper, clerk and senior administrator.

The town will get its money back in tax dollars from this latest project over the next 10 years, said Henderson, who also expects a broader and longer-term community payoff.

The word "crisis" has been used in housing studies to describe the situation in Charlotte County, said the mayor.

There's hardly an apartment to be found, he said. The only vacancies are when one tenant moves out and renovations are being done before the next moves in.

Town of Saint Andrews
Town of Saint Andrews

According to census figures, the population of Saint Andrews has grown by 14.8 per cent in the last five years, and sits at about 3,000 since the recent municipal amalgamations in the province.

"Diverse" segments of the population are in "dire need," said Henderson.

The local New Brunswick Community College is "struggling," because students they recruit can't find a place to live and end up transferring to other campuses or dropping out.

Some downtown businesses are only open five days a week, he said — despite there being enough demand for seven days — because the cost of living is too high for service workers.

Single parents have told him they have to move out of town and take their children out of the local elementary school because they can't make ends meet.

And seniors who have fixed incomes are "having a harder and harder time" living in the community, he said.

Town of Saint Andrews
Town of Saint Andrews

It's great that so many people have moved to Saint Andrews, said Henderson, but it's driving the cost of housing and property assessments "through the roof."

It's causing a strain, he said, on young people who plan to live there as well as locals who've lived there all their lives.

"It's heartbreaking when you have people calling everyday looking for a place to live," said Bevington.

At least one or two calls come in each day, she said, from people looking for a place at one of her other buildings.

Experienced developer

Her company developed its first building in Saint Andrews about six years ago, she said.

Anchor's Landing caters to seniors and is on a property that borders the future site of the Compass project, which she was able to buy last summer.

She also opened the Beacon Waterfront Apartments a couple of years ago in St. Stephen.

Bevington now lives in Ottawa, but grew up in Saint Andrews, where she still spends a lot of time with family and friends and is heavily involved in various community events.

Besides the boost in the tax base, she hopes the new building will facilitate "an infusion of workers," to support the business community.

But Bevington said she also believes strongly in the project.

"A lot of it is a labour of love," she said.

Bevington said she knows there's a great need for housing everywhere in New Brunswick. She thinks this Saint Andrews project could be a model for other communities.

"I feel like this is the way moving forward that municipalities are going to have to look at," she said, since bank financing is only available for projects with higher profit margins, ie., higher rents.

The units in the new building will be "affordable" based on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definition, she said.

That means the price of rent is no greater than 30 per cent of median household income.

In New Brunswick right now, she said, the median income is about $42,000.

That could put rent at about $1,050.

Many people have already expressed interest in getting a place in the new building, said Henderson.

It's supposed to have 36 two-bedroom units and six one-bedroom units, providing accommodation for about 80 people.

In a small town, a project that size, "makes a huge difference," said the mayor.

If the vacancy rate can be boosted closer to four or five per cent, he said, it will keep rents at a more "honest" price.

There's a lot of excitement in the community about the project, said Henderson.

"It's a reason to believe that things are going to get better."

"That hope means a lot to a number of people."