Moncton pledges $6M for affordable housing, requires matching provincial funding
Councillors blast province on housing, homelessness
Moncton council voted to spend $6 million over three years for new affordable housing units in the community, but none of it will be spent without matching funding from the New Brunswick government.
City council voted 8-1 to commit financial support to Rising Tide Community Initiatives' plan. The plan calls for buying derelict homes or vacant properties in Moncton, open housing units charging $300 per month, and offer support services to residents.
It wants to house 125 people within three years starting with people who are chronically homeless.
The decision adds pressure for the provincial government which after about nine months has yet to decide if it will back the concept.
"We have to do something, we can't let our city keep going the way it is," Coun. Bryan Butler said as he moved the motion to fund Rising Tide.
Concerns about homelessness, crime and drug use have become regular topics at council meetings with residents and businesses calling for action.
The motion would draw the city's funding from municipal reserve accounts that already hold millions collected from taxpayers. Capital spending, which could include roadwork, could be delayed to also pay for Rising Tide.
Councillors picked those options to avoid a potential two cent tax increase.
The funding comes with several conditions, including matching provincial support and Rising Tide finding money to pay for its operations after the initial three years. The money is not to come from the city.
Council critical of province
While councillors in recent months have been critical of a perceived lack of action by the province on homelessness and housing, Monday's meeting saw that criticism became sharper.
"They don't listen to us," Coun. Pierre Boudreau said. "On schools, they don't listen to us. They don't listen to us on anything. And quite frankly, a lot of us are getting really, really, really upset."
Boudreau said the province has ignored the needs of New Brunswickers.
"Trying to tackle the provincial debt, Mr. Premier, on the back on the most vulnerable is not only a bad idea, it's evil. So smarten up," Boudreau said.
Coun. Susan Edgett, her voice breaking with emotion, supported Butler's motion.
"I really feel that the provincial government is just not taking us seriously as a council, as a municipality, as people leading our community," Edgett said.
"That upsets me a lot … I would be pleased to at this point to support the initiative and put them on the spot."
The city had given Rising Tide tentative support early in 2020. The plan flows from the city's affordable housing strategy approved last year which calls for creation of a housing entity.
Council was scheduled to vote on financial support for Rising Tide in March, but it was delayed by the pandemic and uncertainty about whether the province would support the idea.
It won't be the City of Moncton that killed Rising Tide, it will be the province that killed Rising Tide.- Rising Tide co-founder Dale Hicks
Dale Hicks, one of the founders, said there must be a decision by Christmastime or the group will fold and the effort will fail.
"It won't be the City of Moncton that killed Rising Tide, it will be the province that killed Rising Tide," Hicks said.
He said he'd be calling provincial officials Tuesday morning seeking answers.
Moncton Dawn Arnold said if the province doesn't support the plan, there's no backup option.
City staff had recommended council delay a decision on supporting Rising Tide until the province's direction is clear. Staff called the amount the city will spend on housing, a provincial jurisdiction, unprecedented.
Coun. Blair Lawrence said while housing isn't the city's jurisdiction, the issue has been left "fallow far too long."
"Somebody somewhere has to do something and inasmuch as it's not our jurisdiction, they are our people," Lawrence said.
Staff also warned Rising Tide's business plan didn't have information about how it will cover operating expenses once the initial municipal and provincial start-up funding runs out.
Hicks said they will create a foundation with private donations to cover costs.
Coun. Paul Pellerin was the only councillor to vote against the motion, saying he couldn't support it without knowing more about how it could impact the city's finances in the future. Coun. Brian Hicks was absent because of a medical issue.
"It's an excellent project, but I think Mr. Higgs needs to make a decision," Pellerin said, referring to the province's premier.
Multiple people who work with the city's homeless spoke in support of Rising Tide ahead of the vote.
Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce CEO John Wishart said the business group supports Rising Tide.
He said homelessness threatens the viability of some businesses in the community.
"Your business community needs your leadership," Wishart said ahead of the vote.