The chair of Fredericton's affordable housing committee says about 10,000 people in the capital city are "vulnerably housed."

That represents almost a fifth of the population, said Mike O'Brien.

"I don't think people quite grasp how significant it is," he said. "We're a prosperous city. A lot of it is hidden."

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The need for affordable housing in Fredericton is 'significant,' according to the affordable housing committee. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

There are the "visible" homeless — the estimated 300 to 400 people who are living on the street or in shelters, said O'Brien.

But there are also those who are "couch surfing," staying with friends or relatives, and those who are living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions.

Many of them are the "working poor," including those who are just starting out in a career such as nursing or policing and have to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, said O'Brien.

Others have well-paying jobs, but are suddenly faced with huge medical expenses, or they have mental health issues and nowhere to turn with scaled back services, he said.

The city's affordable housing committee and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation held a public meeting at City Hall on Monday to discuss the challenge of affordable housing.

"We've had some great successes in the past three or four years," said O'Brien. "Our committee's advocacy, working with partners and social agencies, et cetera, has built a lot of new affordable housing rental units in the city. But it's nowhere near enough to cover the need."

Between 250 and 400 families are on the waiting list for affordable housing, he said.

Nine more people joined the search for affordable housing last Thursday, when their apartment building was condemned. They are temporarily being put up in a Howard Johnson's hotel.

"There's no silver bullet solution," said O'Brien.

But the solutions will have to be community-based, with MPs, MLAs, ministers, city council and community members working together, he said.

Density bonus considered

Mayor Brad Woodside said the city has the highest rents and lowest availability of apartments in the province.

The City is now considering zoning changes to encourage more affordable housing units, he said.

One idea is to allow developers leeway in the current regulations that limit the number of units to the size of the building, said Woodside.

Under the proposed density bonus, "they will be able to build up to 20 per cent more units on the same property, if they make them affordable housing units," he said.

Putting more units on a parcel of land would make the units more affordable.

Another change could be to the number of parking spaces required for apartment buildings, since renters in affordable housing may not have vehicles, said Woodside.

The mayor will also be joining other municipal officials in Ottawa this week to try and push for long-term funding for affordable housing.

As it stands, the federal government provides funding for affordable housing, which is matched by the provincial government. But the funding is allocated in three-year increments, said Pat Pitre, the portfolio management officer for the housing program delivery with the provincial Department of Social Development.

"We really need a long-term plan for 20 years, guarantee the … so that we can work with a developers for long-range planning," he said.