Housing biggest expense for Islanders

Shelter is the biggest bill in most Islanders' budgets, and according to Statistics Canada, the cost on P.E.I. has increased by 8.5 per cent over the past five years.

Getting by on P.E.I.

Housing is the largest bill for most Islanders. Many have to cut corners to keep a roof over their head. 3:54

Shelter is the biggest bill in most Islanders' budgets, and according to Statistics Canada, the cost on P.E.I. has increased by 8.5 per cent over the past five years.

In fact, statistics show that shelter — which includes insurance, taxes, maintenance and repair, electricity, heat and water — averages 19.8 per cent of all Islanders' household expenditures.

Paying household bills is a challenge for Melissa Misener's budget. Her family of five moved into a farmhouse in Nine Mile Creek a few years ago.

While the family's mortgage payment has remained the same, other costs have increased.

Shelter is the main expense for Islanders. (CBC)

"We knew it was going to be three, four tanks of oil throughout the year, but the cost of that tank has went up," said Misener.

"We tend to turn the heat down, and we tend to wear the sweaters and tend to have the slippers."

Misener often wraps up in a blanket to read a book.

The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission sets the price of furnace oil on P.E.I.

"It's an international commodity and it's really dictated by what's happening in the international commodity markets. And because of the fact we don't produce any of our own, we are really an energy taker in that regard," said Moe Rogerson, IRAC chair.

In fact, the price to heat the average Island house for a year has gone from just under $2,500 in 2007 to just under $3,300 in 2011, IRAC said.

IRAC also determines how much landlords can raise rents each year.

According to Statistics Canada, on average, rent on P.E.I. has increased 6.5 per cent over the past five years.

Melissa Misener says that fuel costs take the biggest bite out of her family's housing budget. (CBC)

High demand for provincial housing

Lise Brown said she's really felt those rent increases. She rents a two-bedroom heated apartment in Charlottetown.

"It keeps going up and going up and going up."

Brown said she's cut back on other things like food and how much electricity she uses.

"It's a struggle. I don't go out to eat, I don't go to movies, I don't rent DVDs."

"I'm representative of a huge population. There's a lot of people out there that are cutting corners here, cutting corners there."

Rogerson said IRAC looks at more than fuel prices when considering allowable rent increases.

"We look at a whole range of other issues, including Waste Watch, which went up last year as well. We also look at insurance, the cost of maintenance, and all of the other factors that go into running a typical apt building, and maintaining that building."

But what about people who can't afford to own a home, or pay the going rent?

Right now, there are more than 700 seniors and just under 500 families on waiting lists for provincial subsidized housing.

"I think it's certainly reflective of the fact that the costs have gone up at a rate higher than incomes have gone up. So I think that's continuing to push the demand," said provincial housing coordinator Bill Fleming.

Lise Brown has cut back on food and electricity in order to afford her rental home. (CBC)

People are living in a variety of situations while they wait.

"In some cases, families are doubling up, or tripling up. We know that they're living at home in some cases so we're looking at overcrowding in some situations there that need to get alleviated."

Meanwhile, Misener's family is trying to sell their house. They hope to downsize, and reduce some of their housing costs.

"We don't want to leave the country, don't want to leave the house. But it's kind of the option we went with. We have it on the market. It's not going anywhere fast, but that's pretty much the reason, the reason for putting it up," said Misener.

And Brown is worried about a specific upcoming bill.

"Come April, my electric bill is going to skyrocket because of the HST. That is a very, very scary thing. Any increase is too much for me, because it's just that tight."