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New advocacy projects aim to cut down vacant buildings in Saint John, N.B.

The running list of vacated properties under Saint John’s vacant and dilapidated building programs remains around 150. To begin 2023, the number was 145.

In an effort to shrink that number further, Saint John city council has plans to roll out a pair of advocacy projects which have been on the doorstep of the provincial government for months.

“One would just completely change the tax sale process,” says Saint John At-Large Councillor Brent Harris. “A landlord cannot pay their, or a building owner cannot pay their taxes for up to seven years before it comes in and it goes to tax sale and the building gets taken.”

The other would see a tax implemented on vacant properties.

“Right now, if you let your building fall apart and stay vacant, you’re rewarded with lower taxes,” says Harris. “Your properties’ assessments go down so you have to pay less taxes despite the fact it’s a big risk to the community.”

Harris is hopeful many of these questions will be answered when New Brunswick Housing Minister Jill Green unveils her highly anticipated housing strategy by the end of June.

Harris says council has also looked into a section of the local governance act that would give municipalities the right to repair buildings.

“Council has endorsed a pilot project for one year to go after a few of these problematic buildings, that if they become more problematic, they’ll become structurally compromised,” Harris says. “It’s really us taking a leading role. We would be the only municipality in Atlantic Canada to do this. But to go in and preemptively repair someone’s building and protect that housing asset before it becomes compromised anymore.”

Many of the vacated properties within the city limits are located on the north end of town. When it comes to the city centre uptown, vacancies aren’t as prevalent.

“I’ve been here for about nine years and again, it’s as soon as someone leaves, someone is waiting to step in,” says Uptown Saint John executive director Nancy Tissington. “For instance, we have three businesses that have folded, but we are going to welcome in the new business owners right after that.”

With the addition of the Area 506 Container Village uptown, along with the cruise ship season, Tissington doesn’t believes vacancies will be a worry in the hub of the city.

“It’s a place to be seen, and a place to see people,” says Tissington. “We are seeing the foot counts coming up since COVID-19, and we are excited to see all the patios come out this year again, and even more coming on board. I do believe it’s about the experience.”

There is one area uptown that does have a number of vacancies – the Brunswick Square Shopping Centre has thousands of square feet available for rent.

“I know other cities are having similar issues with the property owner,” according to Tissington. “I think it’s just a lack of having a vision for that site.”

“We have been unable to get the owners of Brunswick Square to really come to the table in an authentic way,” says Harris. “To talk to us about what is possible.”

Harris notes one way to fill up vacant storefronts in the square, and city as a whole, would be to introduce penalties for unexplained vacancies.

“Some of that is our lane but most of that is the province lane,” says Harris. “We are hopeful for June 30.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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