A 90-day review of New Brunswick’s rent situation was released three days ahead of schedule and includes recommendations on how to increase housing stock and better protect tenants.
The review includes 12 recommendations divided into four broad categories: strengthening existing services; increase rental supply; a review of tenancy legislation; and increasing human resources in the construction industry.
Rent control is missing from the recommendations, a major demand of many tenant organizations in the province.
The report recommends “better protections against unreasonable rent increases,” but Cheryl Hansen, the province’s top civil servant, said that doesn’t mean a cap on rent increases.
“We need to make sure we have a plan for housing, not just today, but for the future as we experience growth, as well as making sure we protect our most vulnerable,” Hansen said.
She said the province should avoid immediate “gut reactions,” but also look at people who might need additional protection and “make sure that’s built into our legislation.”
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This will likely involve strengthening the court process, which allows tenants to challenge rent increases. Hansen said the government might be willing to ban increases deemed unreasonable, in the range of 25 to 30 percent.
It is also recommended to improve access to services and information on tenants’ rights in order to provide better protection.
The report also recommends limiting rent increases to once a year. Currently, there is no cap on the amount of rent that can be increased, provided that three months’ notice is given to tenants.
Tenant groups across the province are reacting to the report with disappointment.
“At the end of a 90-day review of the rent situation in New Brunswick, the provincial government has failed to meaningfully address the concerns of tenant groups without an explicit recommendation for rent control or a moratorium on rents. evictions during the pandemic,” a statement read. published by ACORN NB and the NB Tenants Rights Coalition.
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Aditya Rao, spokesperson for the Tenants Rights Coalition, says the report’s most crucial recommendation is the review of the residential tenancy law, something the group has been calling for since its inception.
“All the things we’re seeing right now — the runaway rent increases, the evictions for no reason, the renovations — all of these things are happening because tenant protections are so weak,” Rao said in an interview.
Premier Blaine Higgs says he hopes to see possible amendments to the law ready for the fall session, which usually begins in November.
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Higgs announced the review during his State of the Province address in February and told reporters afterwards that he did not believe there was a housing crisis in New Brunswick, which, according to him, the report confirms.
“What we’ve learned is that we’re not necessarily in a crisis, but a crisis is imminent,” Higgs told reporters on Friday.
“What it does is set up this whole vision of the magnitude of the problem that we have. So I would say we have a situation that we can’t ignore, we have a situation that has been greatly magnified, or enhanced, or accelerated by what we see in the renewed interest in our province.
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Rao disagrees with the prime minister and the report’s assessment that there is no housing crisis, saying the stories included in the report suggest otherwise.
“We are disappointed that the report appears to ignore much of the evidence that the report itself continues to document saying there is no housing crisis,” he said.
“These are people living in crisis and it’s really frustrating that tenants are sharing their stories only to be told there isn’t a crisis.”
The report included quotes from survey respondents who shared their experiences with housing in the province.
“There are several days in the month when I cannot eat. Regularly, I have to make the decision to give up prescription glasses, dental care, expensive drugs, clothes or food,” said one respondent.
“I feel trapped with no way out. Society has swept me under the rug so I don’t have to remind them what poverty looks like.
What’s in the report
Although the report notes in its opening pages that the province “is not currently in a housing crisis,” it paints a dire picture of how many people are being let down by the current system. Along with a jurisdictional analysis, officials spoke to more than 4,000 tenants and 1,000 landlords and developers.
Respondents to a survey released by the government expressed concerns about the condition and price of rental accommodation. Forty-seven percent said their rental unit was in poor condition, 31% said housing costs were out of budget, and 19% said they didn’t have enough room for their family.
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Over the past 10 years, household spending on housing has increased by 41%. For those in the bottom fifth of annual income, there was a 34% increase in housing expenditure over the same period, while incomes only increased by 18%.
The report also identified a gap between what the market is currently able to provide and what New Brunswickers need. Demand is growing faster than capacity to build new units and units under construction are mostly closer to the high end of the market.
According to the report, 41% of respondents with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000 per year pay between $750 and $1,000 per month to stay housed.
Even as apartment construction hits an all-time high, the report says high material costs are driving up end rental prices. The report also states that “there is little or no strong business incentive to create and manage affordable housing stock.”
The solution to most of these problems is increased supply, the report says.
To do this, the review recommends a business plan for a provincial non-profit rural labor force development corporation to address shortages in rural areas, the use of land and buildings in the government to encourage developers to build affordable housing and to promote and provide better tools for local governments to support housing development.
But an obstacle to the province’s strategies — and a well-known one — has also been identified: a lack of human resources. Developers interviewed for the review reported having difficulty recruiting and retaining skilled trades and construction workers.
The report suggests that ongoing recruiting efforts be prioritized and the province look to immigration to provide more skilled workers.
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