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Telegraph Journal: Rents keep going up in New Brunswick: report - ACORN Canada

Telegraph Journal: Rents keep going up in New Brunswick: report

Posted January 31, 2023

New Brunswick’s housing affordability crisis shows no sign of waning in the latest report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

The Crown corporation released its annual report last week on rental markets across the country.

The data show that the average price for a two-bedroom apartment in the province jumped to $1,061 in October 2022 from $969 in October 2021, a nearly 10-per-cent boost.

Nichola Taylor, the New Brunswick chairperson of ACORN, said the statistics – which included existing and newly built apartments – prove that more needs to be done to help tenants.

“We’re very scared and worried about how people are going to survive,” said Taylor, whose organization fights on behalf of people with modest incomes. “We’re already hearing people having rent hikes of over 60 per cent the last couple of weeks. And that’s what’s worrying because people will have to start making decisions, such as, ‘do I pay my rent and not eat?’ or ‘pay my rent and not my utilities?’ and it’s just a very scary situation to be in.”

In the Greater Saint John area, the average rent rose to $1,022 in October 2022 from $888 the previous October, a 15-per-cent hike.

And in metro Moncton, the average price rose to $1,111 from $1,043, a seven-per-cent increase.

Vacancy rates only slightly improved, but not by much, and in Saint John it got worse.

The provincial vacancy rate in October 2022 was 1.9 per cent, up from 1.7 per cent the previous year, meaning there were slightly more apartments available.

The situation also improved ever so slightly in Moncton, with the vacancy rate at 1.7 per cent, up from 1.5 per cent the previous fall.

But in Saint John the rental market tightened, lowering to 1.6 per cent in October 2022 from 2.2 per cent in October 2021, meaning there were fewer apartments available.

Last year, the Tory government imposed a rent cap of 3.8 per cent (coinciding with the previous year’s inflation rate) but it recently decided it wouldn’t extend the measure. It listened to apartment owners who warned a rent cap would scare off investors from building new residences if they had to worry about the long-term implications of too much rent control.

Taylor believes this is rubbish, as apartment construction continued at a steady pace last year in many communities, despite the rent cap.

She also pointed out that the rent cap had too many loopholes. For instance, property owners could raise rents as soon as a tenant left an apartment or if they were doing major renovations.

Taylor’s family of three was forced to move from a modest apartment on Fredericton’s Main Street last winter when her landlady did a big renovation on the building. Taylor called it a “reno-viction.”

Seeing her elderly neighbours on fixed incomes forced out convinced Taylor to become involved with ACORN, and by June she had been elected its New Brunswick chairperson.

“New Brunswick needs stronger rent controls,” she said. “It’s a bit of a wild, wild west situation where landlords are not held accountable, and they are not thinking of the situations faced by tenants.”

Jill Green, the minister responsible for housing, said she’s looking at data from the Residential Tenancies Tribunal, which was given expanded powers last year, to see if more should be done for renters. She has also left open the possibility of imposing a rent cap again, even if it’s not the Tory government’s preferred option.

She has said repeatedly that tenants who are faced with unreasonable rent hikes should contact the tribunal, which has quasi-judicial powers, to see if anything can be done.

The New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association is opposed to rent caps, arguing they distort the market and don’t allow property owners to regain costs, especially when inflation is so high.

The owners have been advocating for years that the property taxes on apartments be lowered. The Tory government has responded by cutting the provincial property tax rates on apartments in half. But the owners say assessment increases of 20 per cent a year have wiped out any gains on the rate, and are pushing for changes that would mean lower overall tax bills.

“New Brunswick is already in a housing crisis,” the association states on its website. “Higher taxes on apartments mean higher rents for tenants.”

Written by John Chilibeck for Telegraph Journal