New Brunswick

Councillor votes against project in own ward to make point about affordable units

Fredericton city council voted this week to allow a new six-storey, 50-unit apartment building on Dundonald Street, but one councillor voted no — to make a point about affordable housing.

Fredericton's lack of affordable housing an urgent problem, Cassandra LeBlanc says

Fredericton city council approved a new development on Dundonald Street that doesn't include any affordable housing units. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Fredericton city council voted this week to allow a new six-storey, 50-unit apartment building to go up on Dundonald Street, but one councillor voted no — to make a point about affordable housing.

The project planned by 527 Dundonald Holdings, which will see 34 one-bedroom units and 16 two-bedroom units, is in Coun. Cassandra LeBlanc's ward on the south side.

She said the development is needed in the area, but the need to address the affordability problem in the city has become urgent. 

There was an opportunity with this project to create four affordable units through the city's bonus incentives program, LeBlanc said before council approved a zoning change to allow the development.

"I just want to remind the staff and the city council here today, and the development community of the urgency and seriousness of this situation," she said. "We also know that the economic impact of lack of housing will have on our city in areas like immigration and health care."

LeBlanc suggested developers don't find the bonus incentives attractive enough.

Currently, under the zoning bylaw, developers can get more units into their buildings if some qualify as affordable under the provincial government's affordable housing program. The program offers developers financial assistance to create housing for people on low-incomes or who are eligible for subsidized housing.

Only three developments have made use of the city's bonus zoning incentives since 2020, one on George Street, one on Hughes Street and one on Bowlen Street. 

"From my point of view, in terms of why [developers are] not using the incentives it's because they don't have to," said Julia Woodhall-Melnik, associate professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John and research director of the Housing, Mobilization, Engagement and Resiliency Lab. 

Coun. Cassandra Leblanc says the Dundonald Street development is needed, but the need for affordable housing is urgent in Fredericton. (Fredericton City Hall Website)

"Look at the fact that only one councillor voted against the development. … It's great to offer incentives, but you know, why take the incentive if you don't have to and you can just make top profit off of your unit?"

Woodhall-Melnik noted that the low vacancy rates in the province's three largest cities have created a "landlord's paradise."

"They are able to be more selective about who they choose to live in their housing," she said. 

Stigma stronger than incentives

Woodhall-Melnik said that through her work and research she has found there is still a stigma attached to low-income housing and a fear that those who rent through an assistance program will cause trouble for landlords or other tenants. This plays into the lack of affordable units in new buildings, she said.

"That it's almost like they feel like that piece is a disincentive, and that the incentives aren't strong enough to get them to use them, especially in a market where they really don't have to."

Instead of attempting to get developers to include low-income housing with incentives, Woodhall-Melnik said municipalities are in a good position to require more out of developers. 

"We change the mindset and we say, 'You want to build in my city and take advantage of the low vacancy rates and take advantage of the lax tenant regulations. If you want these things, then what are you going to do for our city? What are you going to do for our community?' And part of that is including affordable housing units.

She praised LeBlanc for standing up.

"We need people to do that."

City buys land on north side

Council also voted this week to donate a small parcel of land on Devon Avenue to Habitat for Humanity and to purchase a 1.6 hectare piece of land on Clark Street, on the north side, for $250,000. 

Mayor Kate Rogers said the land will allow the city to fulfil some "strategic goals." 

"To buy a piece of land that satisfied some objectives that we have moving into the future for density in that area and development in that area. And, as we know, housing is at a shortage, and there may be an opportunity to do some development there."