New Brunswick

Municipalities to get increased role in social issues under N.B.'s proposed reforms

New Brunswick municipalities and regional service commissions may be given a greater role in addressing affordable housing and social issues under reforms the province plans in the coming years.

Inclusive zoning among changes in white paper released last week

An apartment building under construction in downtown Moncton earlier this year lists rent starting at $1,270 per month. Under proposed local government reforms, municipalities could require some new buildings to include a percentage of units deemed affordable. (Shane Magee/CBC)

New Brunswick municipalities and regional service commissions are to get a greater role addressing affordable housing and social issues under reforms the province plans in the coming years.

A white paper on local governance reform proposes amending the Community Planning Act to give municipalities the power to require developers include a percentage of affordable units in new developments.

It's a tool municipalities have been unable to use as scores of new buildings go up with lofty rents. 

The white paper also proposes giving regional service commissions in the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton regions the ability to fund services related to homelessness, poverty reduction and mental health starting in 2024. The other nine commissions can opt in later.

Social issues like housing and health care fall under provincial jurisdiction. Few details have been given yet on what both of those additional powers would entail practically.

Legislation to enable the changes will need to pass in the legislature.

"I think this is one of those areas where we really do need to get to another layer of detail in the conversation," Adam Lordon, mayor of Miramichi and president of the Cities of New Brunswick Association, said in an interview after the release of the white paper. 

Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon says communities want to know more about the province's plans. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Reporters were told Thursday during a technical briefing about the white paper that service commissions mandated to handle waste collection and regional planning would partner with the province to decide who gets provincial funding for things such as mental health and poverty.

The commission boards are currently made up of mayors and local service district representatives.

Reporters were given an example of about 60 organizations in Saint John working on poverty reduction and decisions about funding being made from Fredericton.

Under the new model, the Fundy Regional Service Commission would make the decision and could opt to augment the provincial money with additional funding.

Some communities have already increased grant spending for non-profit groups in response to what's viewed as a lack of action by the province.

"We've been involved because we've had to be involved, but the conversation needs to be about where those revenue dollars are going to come from to support what needs to happen on these files," Lordon said.

In Moncton, a recommendation to create a housing entity led to spending $6 million over six years to fund Rising Tide Community Initiatives to open 160 affordable housing units. The city has also increased grant spending to groups such as Ensemble, a harm reduction service planning to open an overdose prevention site. 

Lordon said his city is working on a plan for a regional housing authority.

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold says issues like homelessness need a regional approach. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold welcomed news the Southeast Regional Service Commission would take a greater role in addressing social issues. 

"It is not a secret to anyone that some of the social issues that we are being challenged with in our community right now are regional issues," Arnold said. 

Dieppe's Mayor Yvon Lapierre said his city, Moncton and Riverview should work together to implement a regional approach on inclusive zoning. 

Meghan Cross, a spokesperson for Riverview, confirmed the town plans to work with Moncton and Dieppe on implementing inclusionary zoning once the Community Planning Act is amended next year. 

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