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New Brunswick needs co-operative housing solutions now

Published in the Telegraph-Journal on September 13, 2020.

New Brunswick needs co-operative housing solutions now

As voters head to the polls, party leaders are making their case for why they are the best choice to steer New Brunswick to stability and prosperity. For many, this requires persistent and successful measures to retain and grow the population.

For this to happen, political leaders need to make sure the housing market remains affordable and meets the needs of the people of New Brunswick. In order for people to stay healthy, earn a living, put down roots and age in place, housing affordability needs to be at the centre of New Brunswick’s health, economic and social policy.

Economist Richard Saillant said last week that New Brunswick must urgently address the shortage of affordable housing supply. “The price of falling behind on housing is big city rents, which is no way to ensure the support of New Brunswickers for even more immigration.”

Alarm bells are ringing. New Brunswick renters are facing double digit rent increases and vacancy rates at or below one percent in cities and towns across the province. Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold called the issue of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing a full blown crisis.

In a Facebook group started only last week, nearly one thousand members have joined up to share their stories about their difficulties accessing decent, affordable rental housing in the Fredericton area. There are multiple accounts of housing discrimination against single moms with young children. Their stories corroborate with the data: 56% of single women parents and their children experience housing hardships and are living in an unaffordable housing situation. One in five of these households spends more than fifty percent of their income on rent and utilities in Fredericton.[1]

In the Upper Nashwaak region, a group of seniors recently organized a number of Zoom meetings to discuss their future housing needs. They worry about the expense and effort of maintaining their empty nests as they grow older. They want to stay in their communities, enjoy affordable, accessible and maintenance free living, but the supply of affordable rental housing in rural areas is effectively zero.

Sackville’s Mayor, John Higham recently called for more inclusive, co-operative housing in order to address the housing crunch in his university town. In cities and villages big and small, housing issues affect us all.

So what can the provincial government do to ease the housing crisis? Fortunately, New Brunswick already has a dedicated public service and community housing sector with the expertise and commitment to build long lasting housing solutions for New Brunswick’s population. Even better, the provincial government also has a provincial-federal funding agreement in hand to invest nearly $300 million over ten years to protect, renew, and expand community housing, and support New Brunswick’s priorities related to housing repair, construction and affordability.

Where should provincial leadership and funding be focused? A more diversified and inclusive housing landscape is needed to grow and retain New Brunswick’s population, while also ensuring that seniors are treated with dignity and age in place.

When it comes to housing options, people know they can buy or rent. But there is another choice that allows those in housing need to take ownership of their own housing solutions, and that is co-operative housing.

Housing co-ops provide secure, at-cost housing for people of diverse backgrounds and incomes. Co-ops are owned by their members, provide security of tenure and are affordable forever.

More than anything, the pandemic has taught us that we need to focus on our community health and our vulnerable neighbours. Because co-ops are community owned, they can adapt to the needs of their members and put the needs of their communities first. Co-ops have taken this responsibility seriously through the global health crisis. We’ve heard countless stories of co-op members checking on each other, running errands, and picking up groceries for their neighbours.

Many co-op members raise their families in their co-op, and then continue to live there through their retirement years. Not only can seniors age in place, they can also age in community, surrounded by neighbours who care.

Co-ops can provide exactly what the province needs. Shared ownership housing options, such as housing co-operatives can support an aging population and make it more attractive for young families and newcomers to stay in affordable homes within a stronger communities.

The next government of New Brunswick needs to invest in affordable, community housing. A housing system that works for all New Brunswickers must include more co-operative housing.

Tim Ross was born, raised, and educated in New Brunswick. He started his career with the Community Action Group on Homelessness in Fredericton and the New Brunswick Non-Profit Housing Association. He’s currently the Executive Director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

[1] Canadian Rental Housing Index, Families in Rental Housing, Fredericton. www.canadianrentalhousingindex.ca