Abbey St. Andrews struggles to fill remaining rental units

More than a year and a half after hitting the market, a number of rental units remain vacant in a mixed development building in Saint John's uptown.

Saint John vacancy rate 'in a lull' as lineup grows for assisted housing

A mixed development building in Saint John's uptown is having a hard time filling its market-priced units.

All 55 subsidized apartments at the Abbey St. Andrews complex are taken, but more than a year after hitting the market, nine out of the 41 remaining units in the upscale building sit vacant.

"Right now Saint John is in a lull," said John McAloney, a real estate agent with Royal LePage Atlantic. "But consumer confidence is there, and we're gaining that on a day to day, week to week basis in Saint John."

"It's taking a bit of time, but the activity and opportunities are certainly there," he said.

The city's vacancy rate sits at 10.4 per cent, making it the worst on a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation list of 35 major centres in the country.

And while scores of apartments sit vacant in Saint John, more than 900 people are waiting for assisted housing.

Kit Hickey, the executive director of the non-profit housing group, Housing Alternatives, said its work to manage assisted living can't come close to meeting the demand.

"The number of housing units that are available in this city barely even begins to touch the need," said Hickey. "If you were to look at the number of family or singles in receipt of income assistance it would far exceed the number of units available."

"We have seen people wait as long as 15 years for affordable housing," she said.

"They may be completely homeless, living in a shelter, they may be sleeping rough in the outdoor elements, they may be couch surfing, and this is something we see too often in Saint John — that they're living in unsafe as well as unaffordable housing conditions."

The Department of Social Development says there are more than 6,800 people receiving social assistance in the Saint John region.