New Brunswick

Waitlist for subsidized housing doubles as N.B. vacancy rates fall

The growing number of families and individuals looking for subsidized housing comes as the province’s rental market continues to struggle to keep up with demand. It’s a trend happening across Canada, and economists say the shortage in housing is moving hundreds of units out of affordable levels.

More than 10,000 households are now on the provincial housing waitlist

apartment under construction with crane
New Brunswick cities are seeing hundreds of new apartment buildings under construction, like this tower in Moncton, but development is struggling to keep up with demand. The province is also losing affordable housing units due to the pressures on the market. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The list of New Brunswick households waiting for subsidized housing has doubled over the past four years, as apartment supply continues to struggle to keep up with demand.

As of Feb. 1, there were 10,733 households on the waitlist for an N.B. Housing unit, according to the Department of Social Development. That's up from about 5,000 households at the end of 2019.

The growing number of families and individuals looking for subsidized housing comes as the province's rental market continues to struggle to keep up with demand. It's a trend happening across Canada, and economists say the housing shortage is moving hundreds of units out of affordable levels.

Matthew Hayes, the spokesperson for the N.B. Coalition for Tenants Rights, said the country is dealing with two housing crises: a lack of housing overall and the "disappearance" of affordable housing. 

WATCH | 'There's a bigger housing crisis':

Why the wait for subsidized housing is growing in N.B

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New Brunswickers are feeling the pressure of a tight housing market and many are forced onto the ever-growing list for subsidized housing.

"The pressure that tenants are facing is really the concern about whether or not they can afford their next rent increase," he said. 

"In New Brunswick, because there are no regulations that would provide any security at all for someone in their homes, if people are faced with really large increases, they could be moved onto the street or out of their apartment."

Hayes said while the overall lack of housing supply is being addressed through developers building profitable mid- and higher-end apartments, new affordable housing is not being built.

1.3% vacancy rate

The cost of renting an apartment in New Brunswick cities continued to rise last year in response to market pressures.

The average vacancy rate for a two-bedroom apartment fell to 1.3 per cent in October 2023, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's annual rental market report.

That's down from 1.6 per cent a year earlier, and slightly below the national average of 1.5 per cent.

Apartment construction
An apartment building under construction in Moncton's west end. The city is seeing a boom in residential construction, but rent prices are continuing to increase. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The vacancy rate in Saint John was 2.3 per cent, in Fredericton it was 1.4 per cent, and in Moncton it dipped to 0.8 per cent.

Some northern New Brunswick communities, including Bathurst and Campbellton, had 0 per cent vacancy rates in 2023, according to the report.

Economists have attributed the depletion of housing supply to record-breaking population growth in New Brunswick, both from migration from other provinces and immigration.

Apartment construction
The N.B. Coalition for Tenants Rights is raising concerns that while new apartments are being built, like this building in Moncton, very few are affordable units. The vacancy rates in New Brunswick's main cities continued to fall last year. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

While hundreds of new apartment units are being built, the pace of construction is falling short of demand.

The low vacancy rates, in turn, have fuelled a surge in rent prices.

The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the province's three largest cities grew to about $1,200 a month in 2023. That's up nearly 40 per cent from 2019, according to data from the federal housing agency.

In fall 2023, a two-bedroom apartment was renting for $1,268 in Fredericton, $1,232 in Moncton and $1,094 in Saint John.

Longer wait for public housing

The rise in rents due to market pressures is sending more people onto the waitlist for an N.B. Housing Unit. A report last year found more than 8,600 affordable housing units were lost between 2016 and 2021.

The more than 10,000 households on the list include 4,515 non-elderly singles, 3,295 family households and 2,923 seniors.

Kate Wright, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, said not all of the people on the list are without a home, with some people looking for bigger or smaller units or to move to a different area of their city. 

Man with greying hair and black glasses stands on city sidewalk wearing casual red jacket.
Matthew Hayes is with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights. He's calling for stronger measures from government to help protect existing affordable housing. (Pascal Raiche-Nogue/Radio-Canada)

The province is currently building new government-owned housing for the first time in nearly four decades. Most of the existing units of public housing were built in the 1970s.

In response to the housing crisis, the government also introduced a temporary rent cap, which expired at the end of 2022. The province then brought in a new policy that requires rent increases that exceed the rate of inflation to be phased in over multiple years.

Hayes said governments need to bring in better rent control measures to protect existing affordable housing.

"It's only in an unregulated market that very low vacancy rates become an opportunity for investors to increase rents," he said. "Leaving them unregulated just leaves them exposed to price bidding wars."

apartment construction with crane
A new mixed-use building under construction at the corner of Main Street and Vaughan Harvey Boulevard in downtown Moncton. The city had a vacancy rate of 0.8 per cent for two-bedroom apartments in October 2023. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Wright said N.B. Housing is working to address the different factors putting pressure on the market, as part of the province's housing strategy. She said part of the effort includes a focus on modular construction, to ramp up the number of units in rural New Brunswick.

"Without an ample supply of market-priced homes and rentals, the inventory of affordable housing will continue to be depleted," she said in an emailed statement.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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