New Brunswick

Social Development minister says government should be last resort for housing issue

The province’s minister of social development says government should be the “last resort” for solving the affordable housing problem in New Brunswick.

Bruce Fitch says families experiencing rent hikes should contact Residential Tenancy Tribunal

Bruce Fitch, New Brunswick's minister of Social Development, says government should be "last resort" for affordable housing issue. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The province's minister of social development says government should be the "last resort" for the affordable housing issue in New Brunswick.

Bruce Fitch argues the province already has affordable housing programs, including Rising Tide's plan to create 125 affordable housing units in Moncton. Both the province and city are contributing to the project.

Fitch said there are 14,520 subsidized housing units in New Brunswick.   

"I think if you went to the general public, they would probably say we need more," the Progressive Conservative minister said during the New Brunswick Political Panel on Thursday.

But Fitch couldn't say how many units are needed to fill the housing needs in the province. 

Green Party Leader David Coon says government's role is to empower its citizens. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Green Party Leader David Coon referred to Fitch's statement as "absurd."

"The role of government is to protect and empower its citizens, and housing is a fundamental right," he said. 

"We have a massive market failure to provide an adequate amount of affordable housing for both low and people with moderate incomes in this province."  

Coon said the gap in the market has been building for years and, based on Statistics Canada, New Brunswickers spent more than 30 per cent of their income on rent or mortgages. 

"It creates a crisis," he said.

LISTEN | Political panelists talk about affordable housing in New Brunswick. 

Affordable housing was the topic of this week's political panel. Participating this week, the Minister responsible for Social Development Bruce Fitch, Robert Gauvin for the Liberals, David Coon, Leader of the Green Party and Michelle Conroy representing the People's Alliance. 48:45

Coon said New Brunswick has failed with several housing programs in recent years that made no impact on the dire situation. 

He said one of the biggest issues is that local landlords are being bought out by mass corporations who hike rent prices. 

Coon said New Brunswick could use the tax system to benefit small landlords and encourage affordable housing units, but "none of that is being done."  

Liberal MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe Robert Gauvin also disagreed with Fitch on whether the government should be a last resort for affordable housing, saying "the need is immediate."

"Rising Tide was a good thing, but the sad thing is those apartments will not be built this winter and we have people on the streets right now," he said. 

Robert Gauvin, Liberal Party MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, says New Brunswick needs a rent freeze. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

MLA for Miramichi Michelle Conroy said housing is the most prominent issue in her constituency office.

"There isn't even a shelter here, so it's huge," she said.

Conroy said she agrees with Fitch on the government being a last resort for affordable housing needs "to an extent." 

She alleged there are New Brunswickers that drain or abuse Social Development and subsidized housing systems and they need to be held accountable.

But there is still a massive problem with both low and medium income families unable to afford housing, she said.

Rent freezes needed

Gauvin called for a rent freeze in the province, saying P.E.I. and Nova Scotia already took action on the matter. 

He said Premier Blaine Higgs's move to end the rent freeze that was put in place during the state of emergency last spring "doesn't make sense."

Miramichi MLA and People's Alliance member Michelle Conroy says housing is the number one issue in her constituency office. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Gauvin said New Brunswickers aren't in the best place now to find better jobs to help them with rent, so a freeze is needed until the end of the pandemic.

"We need to give these people a chance," he said. 

Fitch said rent freezes will only cause landlords to hike rents prematurely to beat the cut-off. 

He said it will also deter landlords from investing further in the province. 

Fitch said families who no longer can afford their apartment because of a sudden rent increase should contact the Residential Tenancy Tribunal.

About the Author

Isabelle Leger is a reporter based out of Fredericton. You can reach her at isabelle.leger@cbc.ca

With files from the New Brunswick Political Panel, Information Morning Fredericton

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