New Brunswick

Uncertainty at Fredericton council about how affordable NBEx housing will be

Some Fredericton city councillors have questioned a plan that would see 20 per cent of the residential buildings in the Exhibition Grounds redevelopment classified as affordable.

Councillors concerned development won't reflect changes in what's considered 'affordable'

The City of Fredericton sees development of the New Brunswick Exhibition Grounds as a key to meeting the demands of grown in population and interest in downtown living. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Some Fredericton city councillors have questioned a plan that would see 20 per cent of the residential buildings in the New Brunswick Exhibition Grounds redevelopment classified as affordable.

The issue at Monday night's council meeting was whether the plan goes far enough. 

"This is a huge opportunity for the city to get some affordable housing in this area," Coun. Jocelyn Pike said.

According to the proposed plan, "affordable" means rents 10 per cent below the market rate.

But depending on when building projects actually happen, rents at 10 per cent below market rate could still be higher than the market rate now, Pike said. 

"Is it something that could be looked at, in a forward thinking way, having a housing officer that works for the city who can monitor this?" she asked.

"Because if we're saying 10 per cent below market now, and then we don't build this for five years, I just think we need to have some method to track that going forward and make sure that we're actually at 10 per cent below market."

The plan to enable development of the Exhibition Grounds is a joint effort of the city and the New Brunswick Provincial Exhibition, known as NBEx. 

No specific project has been proposed or approved for the downtown site, which has an agricultural heritage going back 150 years and will still be used partly by the exhibition.

Coun. Cassandra Leblanc voted against the Exhibition Grounds development plan because it lacked low-income units. (Fredericton City Hall Website)

The plan includes three development scenarios that would see a mix of residential and commercial buildings and possibly a school and a field house.

Fredericton is expected to grow to 90,000 people in the next 20 years, and the city says a lot of those people will want to live downtown.

The plan estimates that 800 to 1,200 housing units could be built on the NBEx grounds. 

It is expected that parcels of the NBEx land will be sold to private developers for building projects to meet some of those housing needs. 

City watching numbers

Coun. Ruth Breen also had concerns about the affordability of the new housing units during a time of rising rents.

"The questions around affordability — 10 per cent below, 20 per cent below — as long as rents keep going up, that doesn't matter how much per cent below, it's still going to be out of reach for more people," said Coun. Ruth Breen. "This rate is going up and up and up and up."

Marcello Battilana, manager of community planning at the City of Fredericton, said the number is a target and could be higher. 

"It is essentially a baseline number," he said. "And it's really incumbent upon, as this process progresses, that staff working with council and working with the NBEx, look at those numbers and decide how those numbers can be improved upon." 

Wants more aggressive approach

Coun. Cassandra Leblanc was the only councillor to vote against the plan. She said she was happy to see affordable housing included but the plan could have gone further. 

"We could have been more aggressive with the target," she said. "And I know all of us around the table are looking to be more aggressive with the target on affordable housing and the implementation.

"But I would have liked to see a more aggressive definition and target in the actual plan, because we all know that variances are absolutely possible to this municipal plan. And my fear moving forward is that we're just going to have variances to an already kind of OK target."

The plan still needs to pass through third reading.