These days in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, stakeholders are at the drawing board, looking for solutions to the dilemma that most other Canadian communities also face: housing.
The town of about 4,500 people has been impacted by the province’s big immigration gains, but suffers from an aging property inventory.
Managing the ongoing housing crisis is the focus of Kendall Kadatz, president of Future St. Stephen, the city’s economic development agency.
“Investors also started to see the opportunity, so they started gobbling up real estate and saying, ‘wow, you can make more money with this’, and rents went up. So there’s been a lot of pressure on housing,” Kadatz said in a recent interview with PKBNEWS.
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According to Kadatz, the vacancy rate is between 0.3% and 0.5%.
A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report released in February indicated that the national vacancy rate in 2021 was 3.1%.
“It’s the kind of thing that should make national headlines, but the problem is that many communities have similar vacancy rates,” Kadatz noted.
Lack of data
In urban centers across the province, where discussions of housing issues are common, municipalities have adequate access to data.
However, in rural communities, stakeholders are responsible for collecting their own statistics, including vacancy rates and rental rates.
“If we do the work ourselves, we have access to information. Nobody, CMHC data doesn’t cover us at all, CMA covers us or lumps us into larger areas. The province does not have good data on this,” Kadatz noted.
Kadatz said a lack of information can be a deterrent to local developers.
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“If you don’t have that, you can’t attract a developer. There’s no reason for a developer to come to a small town. They have a lot of work in big cities.
In November, the Government of New Brunswick and the federal government each contributed $800,000 to establish the New Brunswick Housing Hub. Its aim is to support housing and further development in rural areas.
“We tend to hear about housing challenges in urban centers and less about rural housing challenges,” said Alex LeBlanc, Acting President of the New Brunswick Housing Hub.
LeBlanc said their scope includes finding financing strategies for projects and creating designs for housing development.
“Developers tend to gravitate toward urban centers because that’s where the best return on investment is from their developments,” LeBlanc said.
“Rural communities are not seeing the level of development activity they need to accommodate the attraction of labor to these communities.”
Like most complex issues, LeBlanc said there is no silver bullet to housing in rural communities.
When asked if there had been adequate investment in rural housing, LeBlanc said there was plenty.
“The Housing Center will serve as an expert resource and project manager, if you will, for the developments,” added LeBlanc.
In St. Stephen, Kadatz said he spent the pandemic reforming zoning regulations and incentive policies to be more desirable to homeowners.
However, he thinks the government can do more to deal with the crisis.
“Rural communities need more support, that’s my argument. They don’t have the collective momentum, the ball rolls down the slope like the big municipalities.
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