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'We can live:' How Fredericton's growing, affordable tiny home community offers hope

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Nestled next to a Walmart on Fredericton’s Northside sits a new community with row upon row of tiny homes. 

Behind each door is a story. A hope. A name. Most of the tiny homes didn’t exist two years ago, but those who call this place home don’t know where they'd be otherwise. 

“I have no idea. Probably somewhere on the streets, cold and scared and alone,” said Susan Hayward. "Especially when you're single. I'm a widow. And right now I've been out of work for a long time so I couldn't jump right back into anything."

Hayward is one of about seventy people the organization 12 Neighbours has helped house in the past two years. Another five residents will move in next week. 

Millionaire Marcel Lebrun is the founder of the 12 Neighbours charity and mastermind behind the project. 

Lebrun said his aim was to make his city better and provide people who are homeless or precariously housed with a safe and affordable place to live. 

“Unless you have a safe, warm place to live, it’s just impossible to work on any of the other challenges in your life. So to me that became the starting point,” said Lebrun. 

“While it looks like we’re a housing community, our mission is to really help people overcome barriers to a full and independent life.” 

Nearly two years ago, Lebrun and his team of carpenters had only built a handful of homes. Now 80 of them stand. Eventually, there will be 99. 

Each is built in a warehouse; a crew of carpenters is pumping out about one every four days. Every unit comes with a bed, a kitchen and a bathroom. A solar panel is attached to each roof. 

At a time when the cost of rent, houses and interest rates are on the upswing, people living at 12 Neighbours pay a subsidized rent on a sliding scale, depending on their income. 

For some who rely on social assistance, they pay about $200 in rent a month. 

"To be able to only use a small portion of your income, that's a big help," said Hayward. 

Al Smith has been living in one of the tiny homes since the beginning. 

“We can live. And we can buy groceries. It’s not easy living but it’s not hard living,” said Smith. 

Like many regions across Canada, homelessness is a growing issue in New Brunswick. To help those in need, 12 Neighbours alerts a coordinated access system in Fredericton when new units are available so someone on the by-names-list who needs a place to live can get one. 

Lebrun believes his team has not only built a neighbourhood of tiny homes but also a community. There are staff on-hand to help residents with substance use counselling if needed, as well as counsel people to achieve housing stability, grow social contacts, set goals and develop skills to work. 

“We just create a context. And we create a context where people have opportunity. It’s all invitational,” said Lebrun. 

Besides the tiny homes, construction is underway for a centre that will include a coffee, print and construction shop where people can develop skills. 

“We’ve had people who’ve gone from living outside last year to now completely off social assistance, working full-time, independent. We’ve had some people even move out and have their own places now,” said Lebrun. 

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