Former finance minister hopes to see housing plan in today's budget
'It is my absolute number one problem and I will be like a dog with a bone on this'
When the Blaine Higgs government introduces its first provincial budget today, former finance minister Cathy Rogers is hoping it will include money for projects that address the homelessness crisis New Brunswick is facing.
Rogers, who is also a former minister of social development, signed the federal funding agreement last July that gives New Brunswick $299.2 million over the next 10 years under the national housing strategy.
"When we signed this in July, it was my understanding that it would be ready to go, for the money to flow by fall is what I was hoping," said the Liberal MLA for Moncton South.
Rogers said studies into housing needs have been completed, and the provincial housing plan was nearly complete when the government changed in November.
You'll never get politics from me on this. I will work with you. We need housing here.- Cathy Rogers, Moncton South MLA
CBC News has requested an interview with Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard several times over the past month to ask when the housing plan will be ready and when the millions in federal funding for this fiscal year will be available, but the minister has refused.
No one from the Department of Social Development attended a recent CBC forum on homelessness and affordable housing held in Moncton.
Rogers said she wants "money doled out ASAP" to community organizations who are trying to help the hundreds of people struggling to get off the streets and into affordable housing.
The former minister said that when she left government, the housing plan for New Brunswick had prioritized seniors with low incomes, homeless people, people with disabilities, and children and women fleeing violence.
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Rogers said negotiations with the federal government about what a New Brunswick housing plan would look like, and how the approximately $30 million per year could be spent were tough, but she believed all of the details were worked out.
"I can recall us doing negotiations back and forth with the federal government to make sure we can even get rent subsidies as part of this housing agreement," she said. "When we signed the agreement we worked all those out."
In February, Shephard said the province's housing plan was facing "hurdles" negotiating with Ottawa over how the federal money would be spent.
Rogers said that is surprising since the former government negotiated "really hard" so that the millions could be used for projects that best suited New Brunswick.
"Let's face it, what works in Toronto might not work in New Brunswick. And what works in a smaller area of New Brunswick may not be what Moncton needs."
Proposes incentives for landlords
The former government attached cost estimates for incentives for landlords to offer more affordable housing, including a break on property taxes for those willing to offer some of their units to tenants with rent subsidies.
"Why not incentivize behaviour?" Rogers asked.
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Rogers said she is crossing her fingers that the only reason the Progressive Conservative government hasn't released its housing plan is that the change in government slowed it down.
"I personally will not be satisfied if we're going to launch a plan only with a study. We do not need to study anything else. We have the data. We're ready to move."
Rogers has met with Shephard to make the case for getting money flowing immediately to community organizations that best understand housing needs.
At that meeting, Rogers said, she told the social development minister, "You'll never get politics from me on this. I will work with you. We need housing here."