Regional Partners Must Work Collaboratively To Drive Growth
Lately there has been a lot of discussion about the pace of development in the Saint John Region, especially when compared to other areas in New Brunswick. While it is easy to bemoan that other communities are doing better and seek out someone to blame, it is more important to understand how property development works, and what we can do as a collective to facilitate growth.
Before the point gets lost in this article, we want to highlight that as of the end of June, the Saint John Region is maintaining a similar pace to 2022 housing starts and that’s not good enough. We are actively speaking to developers about the challenges they face with projects in the region and what can be done to encourage faster development.
We are also working to ensure that we have a solid understanding of the housing required to support changing economic and demographic conditions in the region. One of our region’s 10-year outcomes is growing our population by 25,000 people. Envision Saint John has a mandate to attract people and we have challenged our member municipalities to develop their growth-readiness strategies so that they can ensure they are prepared to take in people as possible. To support this, we recently took steps to complete a residential market study and housing demand projections and are in the early stages of implementing a real estate sales strategy this year to guide our role in the region’s development.
Envision Saint John does not have a role in the approval of residential, commercial, or industrial development applications. That is the sole responsibility of elected municipal councils and the regional service commission on behalf of the rural district. Our role is to provide market data to help developers make decisions on the financial viability of their projects, connect those who are encouraging development with those who can get projects off the ground, and to provide strategic support to government, industry, and the public who want to see our region grow.
Real estate development is a complicated, risky, and expensive business, and the industry is facing enormous challenges scaling to meet the rapid increases in demand while the fundamental economics of development are shifting. We’ve all felt the impact of rising interest rates, but the greatest challenge is the cost of residential construction which has increased by more than 50 per cent over the last three years. Incomes and market rents have not kept pace and are not likely to catch up in the near future.
The recent challenges in the development industry are going to require government, developers and neighbourhoods to adapt — it is incredibly important to the long-term viability of our communities. Without development it is difficult for us to grow our population, grow our economy, and enhance the overall quality of life in the region. We all need to do more to support development in our region. We need to find more ways to say ‘yes’ to projects and make them become a reality, because this is what is happening in other parts of the province. Other regions are getting shovel-ready projects approved quicker and they are seeing more units built faster. We need to accept our future neighbourhoods are going to look different than they do today. We need to have an appetite for densification which means building up more than we are building out.
Another important factor that must be considered is that capital is mobile, which means that money follows opportunity. If capital is sitting idle too long, it will find its way to another project that will generate a return on that investment. We need to find more ways to ensure that capital benefits the Saint John Region, and we must start now.
We all have a role to play in the growth of our region. We at Envision Saint John are working to identify ways to create growth-ready conditions for our region. We need our development partners to bring forward more shovel-ready projects that can address the diverse housing needs of our communities. We need our municipal partners to find ways to support these projects and ensure they can be completed in a timely manner and remain economically viable. We need the residents of our region to support responsible development throughout the region. Right now, more than ever we need collaboration with our stakeholders so that our collective communities can maintain the high quality of life we are striving for. We will continue to act as the sales agent for the region, and as we bring potential deals to the table, we need our municipalities to be solid closers to get these deals over the finish line. Through open dialogue and constructive collaboration, we can unlock our region’s potential and create a sense of ownership and pride among our residents. Only together are we going to be able to achieve it.
Heather Libbey & Jillian MacKinnon
Acting Co-CEOs, Envision Saint John: The Regional Growth Agency