FREDERICTON -- A coalition of 32 groups representing tenants and low-income New Brunswickers has written to the provincial government seeking help to address what they call worsening housing conditions in the province.

In the letter, sent Monday, the groups say rent increases are far outpacing the rise in median income, and tenants have no protection from rent increases and evictions.

"The Canadian Rental Housing Index shows that 36 per cent of renter households in the province are living in unaffordable housing, with 14 per cent living in situations of severe unaffordability," the letter states.

Headed by the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights and the Human Development Council, the groups say there is a growing risk of homelessness as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Speaking during a virtual news conference Tuesday, organizer Tobin Haley said there is an urgent need for housing security.

Haylee Cormier, a tenant in Moncton said even if there wasn't a pandemic, dramatic rent increases would still be forcing tenants out of their homes in the middle of winter.

"Like myself, there are a lot of people in New Brunswick on fixed incomes, disability, social assistance, pensions, etc. All these people cannot afford to make up the difference," she said. "There is not enough low-income housing to help all these people."

The groups are calling for an immediate two per cent cap on rent increases and a moratorium on evictions until the province returns to the green phase, which will come when enough of the population has been vaccinated to lift all public health restrictions.

Matthew Hayes, an associate professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton who took part in the news conference, said he can't understand why the provincial government has not already taken action on the issue.

In December Premier Blaine Higgs said that according to figures he'd seen, eviction rates during the pandemic were low. On Tuesday, Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson issued a statement in response to the coalition's letter.

"I am empathetic to the challenges people are facing due to COVID-19, particularly as it relates to rent increases," she wrote. She said she is aware of concerns about affordable housing and homelessness, "and I am continuing to work with my colleagues to address these issues."

Wilson said the issues are complex, adding that the government would have more to say on the issue in the coming weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2021.