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The government released its long-awaited housing strategy today, and while there’s some meat on the bones here, we are a long way from a steak.  In fact, in many aspects, the calves have yet to be born, let alone raised and ready for the grill.

Much of what was released today is future impact-focused and is going to take years to show any real results. Unfortunately, people are hungry today. Now.  Not in three years, or five years, or even more.

Let’s look at some key components from the Housing Strategy announcement:

A “Rent Bank”

The concept here is to provide “short-term” loans to low- and medium-income individuals and families to assist them with an unexpected shortfall for rent, utilities, and damage deposits.

We do see some value in this program.  For some, this may genuinely be a huge, one-time help in overcoming a sudden, unexpected expense such as an appliance breakdown or emergency.  However, for far too many already unable to meet their basic needs on a day-to-day basis, we see a potential trap – much like the vicious circle of using a payday loan institution.

What happens when someone must start paying that short-term loan back on an already insufficient income to meet their expenses?  Do they pay it back only to have to borrow it again?  Do they have to borrow even more next month to cover the existing shortage and their payment amount?  The devil is in the details here, and we are short on details so far.

Housing starts, repairs, and renovations.

The primary question seems rather obvious to us – where will the workforce come from?  We have a critical shortage of skilled tradespeople, construction workers, and general laborers.  If you look around you, there are stalled developments all over the province that are waiting for the workers to finish them.  What is the plan?  Will we first immigrate workers, have them build their own housing (since there’s none available), and then put them to work?  What does the timeline look like here, realistically?

Other points from the announcement:

  • Establish “a New Brunswick skilled trades office or strategy in India (or another country) to recruit or pre-qualify 10,000 individuals in priority trade occupations to support immigration to New Brunswick.”

Sounds both time-consuming and expensive. We would start with a review of the skills of recent immigrants since we are personally aware of many skilled but unemployed newcomers.

  • “Create conditions to hold annual rent increases at an average of 2.5 percent and the percentage change in average home prices to 4.8 percent.”

How? When? What exactly is the plan? This sounds like a great aspiration, but aspirations don’t keep people securely housed.  More details are needed.  The truth is that Rent Cap would do the same thing – especially when fairly combined with eliminating the so-called “double tax”.

Currently, landlords are benefiting from last year’s reduction in that same tax – but have any of those benefits been passed onto the tenant? No, they have not.

Prior to the 2018 election, long before COVID and the extreme escalation of the housing crisis that we’ve witnessed over these past two years, the People’s Alliance saw the writing on the wall.  We saw at that time rents were increasing at a rate that far-outpaced income.  We saw people struggling to make ends meet.

At that time, we proposed the elimination of the “double tax”, as it has become known, but only in conjunction with a three-year freeze on rent increases, to be followed by a review.  Had we been successful in implementing that policy – the majority of today’s crisis in the rental market could have been avoided completely.

We recognize that the issue of both available and affordable housing is multi-faceted and will take time to solve. We also acknowledge some excellent, forward-thinking pieces here that will positively impact the future.  It’s a start.

However, we decry the lack of solid, concrete, real-time initiatives to help those struggling today. All the good intentions in the world do nothing to help people today. Today we need action.

Actions such as:

A Rent Cap reasonably and responsibly applied is at this time, essential. We recognize that it is unreasonable to expect landlords to absorb only a 3.8% cap when inflation is 7.8%, but we cannot allow vulnerable tenants to endure excessive, unjustified, and unaffordable increases of 15%, 20%, 25%, and even more.

Landlords looking to displace tenants for non-essential renovations and upgrades should be responsible to share in the responsibility of rehousing them, either temporarily or permanently, in accommodations of similar size, quality, affordability, and access to amenities.

The government can and should work with Landlord Associations and Property Managers to increase the number of willing to accept subsidized tenants, which is currently low.  Many landlords prefer the convenience of direct rent to dealing with subsidies.

It is said that consultations were widespread with many stakeholders. We don’t doubt that, but we wonder who these stakeholders were and what their agendas were.  When do we stop consulting with organizations and owners who stand to profit and start talking to real people just trying to keep a roof over their heads?