Daily Gleaner: Disappointment, anger over affordable housing reforms

Posted March 24, 2022

A senior couple recently "reno-victed" from their downtown apartment say reforms to address the affordable housing crisis will help landlords more than tenants.
 

Vivian and Rick Moore moved March 1 to a new trailer in the Hanwell Trailer Park on the city's outskirts. 

It was their only option after their landlord, Peachmont Properties, told them late last year they had to leave because it was renovating their old apartment and jacking up the rent.
 

The province announced Tuesday it would put in a one-year, 3.8 per cent rent cap increase - retroactive to Jan. 1 - halve the provincial property tax rate on apartments over three years, and introduce more rights for tenants kicked out for no reason, among other changes. 

"It doesn't seem to do much good to put a cap on rent for one year only," said Vivian on Wednesday. "They're going to eliminate the double tax, but the landlord isn't obligated to pass that on to the tenant. He can only evict you now for 'just cause: But he can just say he's renovating. So nothing really seems to help tenants much." 

Ben Peach, the owner of Peachmont, declined comment on the changes, but the New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association said the cut in the tax rate wouldn't be enough to offset the average 30 per cent property tax increase landlords are facing. 

Willy Scholten, the association's president, said the hefty tax burden would still turn off investors, who wouldn't build as many new apartments, causing further strain for tenants in a tight market.

The average rent in New Brunswick increased by more than seven per cent last year, the highest hike in the country.

Reforms against predatory landlords

One of Fredericton's bigger apartment owners, Cedar Valley Investments, said the rent cap was a good move and would stop predatory landlords, but assailed the province for not doing more to address high taxes. 

"I didn't see the government capping assessment hikes or anything else related to property cost;' Louie Youssef said in an email. "So how can any business operate with a fixed price increase but no fixed cost increase? That's what was unfair about it, and it will ultimately hurt the market. Housing will become more expensive and scarce in the future." 

Youssef said the provincial government should have limited assessment increases, and there should be more pressure on the municipalities to lower their own tax rates.
 

"Fredericton is the most guilty in keeping the windfall to themselves compared to Moncton and Saint John," he said. 

Vivian Moore, meanwhile, said she and her husband were fortunate that their eldest daughter in Calgary re-mortgaged her house and bought a trailer for them in Hanwell. To cover the mortgage, lease and other bills on their small home, the Moores are paying $950 a month, $100 more than the rent at the old apartment, a hike they can handle, despite being on fixed incomes.
 

"Our daughter asked if we wanted to live in a trailer or a tent," Rick said, laughing. "It was an easy choice." 

But their younger daughter and son-in-law, who have intellectual disabilities and are on social assistance, must also leave their old apartment that was next door to their parents. The Moores are hopeful that some downtown churches that have stepped in will help find them a suitable alternative. 

The reforms also come too late for the tenants of 91 Main St. on the city's north side, whose landlord told them earlier this year they would have to leave so that she could do extensive renovations.

Nichola Taylor, an immigrant whose family recently moved to a different apartment, said all 17 tenants would be out by the end of May. Several of the tenants staged a noisy protest last month in front of the building, with the help of Acorn, a nonprofit advocacy organization. 

"The reforms are bittersweet because they're coming after what happened to us. Most of us have already found another apartment at a higher cost. And the new rule says they can't throw you out for a good reason. But our landlord said it was for a major renovation. So that wouldn't have affected us anyway." 

Taylor said the province should put in more protections for tenants - such as assessing the renovations being done by landlords to see if they're legitimate - make the rent cap permanent, and do a major overhaul of the Residential Tenancies Act, which has only been tinkered with since it was introduced in 1975. 

Terry Cormier, the new owner of 91 Main St., said she had no problem with the reforms. But she said due to the rent cap, she'd have to be much more careful when she bids on buying apartment buildings. She's hoping to close on two new apartments soon, giving her more than 100 units in total. "It's fine by me, I'm happy they're cutting the taxes," said Cormier, who confirmed all the tenants on Main Street would be leaving following extensive renovations. "The rents there are super low. I might not have bought that building for more than $1.5 million knowing that I can only charge a little more on rent per unit. I'm not gouging anybody, I just want to charge the going rate. Renovating there is a nightmare. I'm putting in a minimum $10,000 in renovations per unit. It's going to take me two or three years just to recoup my reno costs." 

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Article by John Chilibeck for the Daily Gleaner

 

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