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How to help fix the rental market

February 12, 2024News

At a time when New Brunswickers are struggling to make ends meet, the Higgs government dropped more bad news for renters. The removal of phased-in rental increases is mind boggling. Coupled with this government’s failures on other programs aimed at renters, it’s simply cruel. This government’s track record on tenant protection and housing is abysmal.

Since the Higgs government was re-elected in 2020, more New Brunswickers are sleeping on our streets than ever before. The province’s inaction means that municipalities are forced to try and solve this problem with limited budgets and even fewer options.

For renters, New Brunswick continues to be one of only a few provinces in Canada to not cap rental increases. Back in 2022, tenants had the comfort of knowing there was a rent cap in place. They could plan for their futures and provide adequate shelter for themselves and their families. In 2023, that rent cap was removed. To replace it, the Higgs government created a system where higher increases could be phased in over two or three years. The phased-in approach was far from ideal, as it put the onus on renters to challenge the increase. However, it was still some kind of protection – and now it’s gone.

Rents are still climbing and renters no longer have a safety net. There are solutions the government could be using to help people now, as well as plans that can be implemented to benefit New Brunswickers into the future.

The fastest way to help renters is to re-establish the rent cap immediately. When the cap was removed, the Higgs government said it was to spur more housing developments. However, we now know that there were more units developed in 2022 – with the rental cap in place – than there were in 2023. The rent cap should be legislated so that renters and landlords can plan for their futures.

In the absence of the rent cap and the phased-in approach, you’d expect the government to have an accessible Rent Bank program with clear guidelines. Instead, current Rent Bank criteria are unclear, very few people have received assistance, and New Brunswickers are being told by the minister to submit an application even if they are unsure they qualify – yet another example of this government creating policy on the fly. New Brunswickers expect more and deserve better from their government.

The housing crisis facing New Brunswick is alarming. As we look beyond short-term relief for renters, we also know that housing supply issues are causing major problems for current homeowners, those looking to become homeowners, and those who depend on public housing. Simply put, we need to figure out how to build more homes. To their credit, the federal government has been working closely with municipalities in the province to help fund new developments. However, the province can and should be playing a much larger role in helping ease the pressure.

New Brunswick has a wealth of non-profit housing agencies and co-ops – groups that hold tremendous knowledge and expertise on how best to navigate this crisis. Through meaningful collaboration and funding, we could task these groups with building more homes. We do not need to reinvent the wheel – or the house. With the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors working together, we can figure out how to plan and build more homes. But we need to start yesterday.

Lack of housing directly affects links to other essential needs such as access to healthcare and education. The longer people remain unhoused or precariously housed, the greater the pressures on food banks, shelters, government assistance, public safety, and justice systems. The housing crisis cannot wait for this government while it juggles a multitude of attempts at band-aid solutions that seem like nothing more than announcement opportunities. People one paycheck away from losing the roof over their heads cannot wait. New Brunswickers cannot wait.