PEI·No Fixed Address

How P.E.I. hopes to improve the current housing situation

Government officials on P.E.I. say they're aware that many Islanders are struggling with housing, and say it's something they're working to fix.

Cities reviewing bylaws around density, looking at incentives to build affordable housing

A provincial seniors' housing complex on Queen Street in Charlottetown. Currently 720 seniors are on a provincial waiting list. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Provincial and municipal officials say they're aware that many Islanders are struggling with housing, and say it's something they're working to fix.

"It pains me, it does, it pains everyone here in the department," said Tina Mundy, provincial minister of family and human services. She said she's been hearing from many people who don't have adequate housing.

She said government recently found homes for 300 people using rent supplements — an initiative where the province pays part of the rent to make a rental more affordable.

Mundy also said government is trying to be flexible with the maximum rent allowed for people to receive a supplement, so people are able to stay where they are.

"We want people to have hope," she said. 

The province currently has 0.3 per cent vacancy, according to the latest numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), with just 0.2 per cent vacancy in Charlottetown.

Mundy, however, is optimistic those numbers will improve.

"I'm getting different statistics," she said. "I'm hearing within two years, we're going to have a surplus of housing."

Waiting lists

There are currently about 1,300 people on a waiting list for provincial housing — where they would pay 25 per cent of their income toward rent — and Mundy said her department has looked at where the need is most urgent.

"The people that are most in need are the people that we're acting on right now," she said.

Tina Mundy says the province is making progress with the waiting list for housing. She says those in the most urgent need will get a spot. (Laura Meader/CBC)

She said about one per cent of people on the wait-list are in urgent need, but that some people are not ready to move immediately when a space comes up.

The province is also working with motel owners and landlords to find short-term places for people to stay, Mundy said, but couldn't provide a number of how many people have been placed.

Plans for more units

The province's housing action plan includes a goal to add 1,000 units over four years.

As part of that, the province recently announced 100 units in Charlottetown and 75 in surrounding communities, but many of the details are still unknown.

Mundy said a location has been chosen in Charlottetown but couldn't say if a tender was awarded yet or a developer chosen.

"I know there is a design in process and a site has been picked out," she said. "We should be hearing something very shortly."

Proposals are also being looked at for the units in the surrounding area.

Mundy said the government would move faster to build more units "if we could," adding government has recently heard from 50 developers with ideas for improving the housing situation.

She also said a housing council is looking at other ways to help people find housing, adding other social initiatives — like a generic drug program — could help people save money in other ways, helping them pay their rent.

"We are interested in ideas," she said. "We are flexible."

Charlottetown reviewing density, taxation

The City of Charlottetown also has plans for increasing affordable housing, which includes changes to bylaws and tax incentives to encourage affordable housing projects.

CAO Peter Kelly said the city is working on a tax grant program where the building owner would have either a full or partial grant for the city's portion of their property tax bill for up to 20 years.

The city is also reviewing its zoning bylaws to allow more density for affordable housing. That means buildings could be taller or have smaller living units.

Charlottetown CAO Peter Kelly expects new incentives to promote development of affordable housing will be in place by next spring. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"If you ordinarily can build four floors, that may be able to go to five floors," Kelly said.

Tiny homes are another solution the city is looking at. 

Kelly said land-use bylaws are being looked at to figure out where tiny homes could go. He raised the ideas of creating a tiny home park or allowing them in backyards.

The city is also encouraging the province to tax short-term tourist rentals as commercial businesses, he said.

Kelly said staff will bring proposed changes to council in January, which will lead to public consultation and eventually a vote from council. If all goes well, he said, changes could come into effect by next spring.

Staff in Charlottetown are working on changing bylaws and development rules for affordable housing projects. Proposed changes will need public input and council approval. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Summerside looking to encourage density

The City of Summerside is also looking at what it can do to improve the housing situation. The current vacancy rate in the city is just 0.9 per cent, according to CMHC, down from 4.1 per cent two years ago.

"We've seen a steady decline in available rental properties," CAO Bob Ashley said. "There are a lot of people out there looking for housing and can't find it." 

The city recently created a new official plan, replacing one from more than a decade ago, and Ashley said it brings a more progressive approach to land and housing.

Bob Ashley, the CAO of Summerside, says the city is reaching out to developers hoping to encourage them to build. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"Certainly density is one of the things we would like to encourage," he said. Ashley said if a developer met certain conditions, it's possible the current four storey limit could be waived, allowing them to build as high as 10 storeys.

"We haven't entertained a development like that yet, but that's open to consider," he said.

Better co-ordination between governments

Ashley is hopeful construction on new affordable housing could begin as early as next year, and said he's hoping to not only see apartment buildings but innovative ideas like micro-housing or smaller accessible homes for seniors. 

"Everybody deserves it, it's really a human right," he said.

He would like to see better co-ordination from all three levels of government on housing policies, which he believes could get rid of some of the barriers to building new units.

He said the city has met with CMHC and the province to see what can be done to make it easier for developers to build new housing.

Empty buildings and sprawling parking lots are prominent in Summerside's downtown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The city is putting a focus on residential growth in the downtown core, Ashley said, which currently contains empty buildings and multiple parking lots due to commercial buildings moving uptown.

He also said the city is researching what other parts of the country are doing to create affordable housing.

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About the Author

Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.

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