'Affordable housing won't happen without non-profits today'

"It was difficult to find qualified people," said Hannan's Construction Ltd. - a Saint Andrews based home renovation and construction company, at Thursday's housing symposium.

Chris Hannan representing his company Hannan's Construction Ltd. contributed to the discussion about the shortage of skilled labour in Charlotte County by sharing his personal experience. He said it is a challenge to find people who attended school to learn the trades of carpentry and construction, also mentioning that not having enough manpower is making them lose on a lot of projects.

The topic was one among many, that was raised for discussion at the housing symposium organized last Thursday by the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Dominion Hill Country Estate, 990 Reardon Rd. Digdeguash. The hall was packed with more than 40 attendees comprising municipal representatives, regulatory bodies, private developers, non-profit developers, funders, financial institutions, members of the SWNB service commission, etc.

The symposium was the first of its kind, primarily hosted for networking and building connections between those who are in one way or the other involved in the housing industry of Charlotte County, said Alexander Gopen, a senior planner at the SWNB service commission. The event got postponed for two years due to the pandemic, he added.

Hannan said, "a couple of years ago we did as much work as we refused, now we are refusing three or four times as much work as what we can do." He said the two reasons behind this, first being the amount of work available has increased and the second being "we don't have the manpower to take on the amount of work that's available."

He said the discussion at the symposium was "very helpful" and someone mentioning the FAST NB program by New Brunswick Community College (NBCC), gave him a direction. The program offers training and assessments to immigrants interested in trades and also helps employers "to source skilled workers" to fill vacancies, said the NBCC website.

Hannan said he "reached out to the apprenticeship program" after getting back to his office and is planning to further explore opportunities. "They are not gonna be an instantaneous relief to our issues, but it's something to kinda look down the road."

Wayne Dempsey, manager at St. Croix valley housing co-op said he attended the symposium to look at where things were in the industry. He said he is "interested in building more affordable housing" across Charlotte County, but there are multiple factors like increased costs, interest rates, labour shortage, etc. affecting them.

"Now I know who to contact," Dempsey said noting that he was able to learn about some funding options available and make connections that can help him look at some future opportunities. "It may be a small thing, but small things like that add up and help out."

Tressa Bevington of Compass Housing Inc., flew from Ottawa to attend the symposium. She said it was "very motivating" and worth the travel. Bevington said she was able to "put a face to a name" she was working with on her upcoming 42-unit apartment building in Saint Andrews and also met the local building inspector for the area for his suggestions.

Kendall Kadatz, president at Future St. Stephen was involved in organizing the symposium and said that non-profits like his are also working towards similar goals in the housing sector and can help in the economic development area. Kadatz mentioned that working with non-profits can help developers better understand which areas they can put their energy in, to save time and money.

He said, "Affordable housing won't happen without non-profits today." According to Kadatz, non-profits can help developers to focus in the right direction, saving their money from being spent in the wrong areas of the project. "I do practical re-directing."

Engineer Andrew Johnson, who works at a Saint John family business - Johnson Engineered Solutions Ltd., suggested that developers should also provide income-generating options in the apartments to help make them more affordable for renters. Johnson said installing a bitcoin miner, or creating a database where tenants can create and upload content about their experience will help them earn money.

He said if the data gets "created right at the place," then the service commission will not have to go and pay a "third-party consultant," and people will not have to go and search through websites like Kijiji or yellowpages.com.

Jeff Renaud, St. Stephen's chief administrative officer said the event was helpful to understand how municipalities can help simplify things for the developers. He said he now recognizes that many developers might not be open to discussing their thoughts in a council meeting due to its formal nature and also in the fear of their "business plans" becoming public through the live stream.

He said, there should be more "informal sessions" and "coffee conversations" to get things to fruition. Renaud said with the new municipal reform happening in Charlotte County, there will be more projects coming under one municipal government and having a more simplified understanding of council processes for developers and more informal conversations with the municipalities will help things come to a "yes."

In 2020, the SWNB service commission released a housing study and a qualitative housing report understanding the social impacts of housing, the report was later updated in 2022 and there was no formal presentation for the reports, said Gopen.

This was the first meeting to explain to people about how the reports were put together and what they meant, to allow everyone to have a better understanding, said Heather Chase, community developer with Horizon Health Network, who also spoke about the social impacts of housing at the symposium.

"There's nothing worse than someone doing a really good study, but nobody else knows it's been done," she said.

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal