Will it get easier to find a place to live on P.E.I. with housing projects on the rise?

Low vacancy rates are motivating developers to build. The communities of Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall are seeing high numbers of development applications.

'The planning department is going to see record numbers this year'

An apartment complex under construction
This complex on Norwood Road is being built by Ellis and Birt Limited. It's affordable seniors' housing. (Laura Meader/CBC)

With vacancy rates hovering around zero per cent, these are tough times for anyone looking for a place to rent.

But officials with Charlottetown and some of its surrounding communities say multi-unit housing projects are in the works and planning departments are extremely busy with applications. 

"The planning department is going to see record numbers this year," said Coun. Greg Rivard, the chair of planning for Charlottetown.

'We're predicting this year to be the biggest year ever,' said Greg Rivard, chair of planning for Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Rivard said they expect 2019 to be the biggest year ever for applications and projects underway. 

"There certainly is a need but again I think developers are meeting the need as much as possible," he said.

Rivard said the city has about 1,200 units right now that are either approved, or for which applications are being assessed. 

Supply will catch up

Stratford has several projects in the works now and more being proposed.

"In 2018 we saw quite a spike in numbers," said Kevin Reynolds, director of planning for Stratford.

Many of those projects are still in the works right now, as larger buildings often take at least a year to build. 

A five storey, 79-unit apartment building on Stratford's waterfront is currently under construction. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Reynolds said projects in the works now should eventually help those people looking for a place to live. 

"When you add another 150 units to your community that's certainly going to help people with accommodations," Reynolds said.

He said more housing means rent prices should go down. 

'We're anticipating 2019 will be busy,' said Kevin Reynolds, director of planning for Stratford. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We know people are struggling with trying to find affordable accommodations," Reynolds said. 

He said he witnessed a similar housing shortage about 10 years ago. 

He expects supply to catch up to need. 

"So by the fall of this year, we'll see a significant number of more units within the community available," Reynolds said. 

Cornwall also building 

Cornwall has seen a lot more housing projects in the last couple of years. The town gave out about 130 building permits in both 2017 and 2018. That's more than double 2016 numbers. 

"We have a lot of interest in the multi-unit developments right now," said Dean Lewis, manager of planning and development. 

He said they have a number of projects in various stages currently. 

This site on Dale Drive, just off the Trans-Canada highway in Stratford, has been approved for a four storey, 56-unit building. 30 units will be identified as affordable. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Lewis said when the community announces projects, people sometimes show up at the town hall looking to get on the building's wait-list.

"There's still a need for sure," he said.

Lewis expects current projects to make a significant difference. 

This 42-unit apartment building at the old Byways Trailer Park site in Cornwall filled quickly, say planning officials. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"Some of the developments that are coming will hopefully satisfy the need right in the town, but hopefully attract people to the town."

He said the town is trying to monitor how many units are enough. 

This site in Cornwall on Fulton Drive is the proposed location for a 36-unit project. 30 units will be identified as affordable. The town is working through the permit process for the project. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Staff and councillors with the planning departments of Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall all talked about the shortage of trades people as a challenge.

"They have the plans. They have the property. They can't get anyone to build it," said Lewis. 

Not a quick fix

Chris Janes, senior analyst with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, said although projects are underway he expects vacancy rates to stay around zero or one percent this fall. 

A developer hopes to put a 70-unit apartment building on this empty lot on Minna Jane Drive. Charlottetown's planning department is recommending the project be approved. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We don't anticipate much of a change," Janes said. 

He said population growth has put an enormous amount of pressure on rental units.

CMHC knows developers are reacting to the shortage but said renters will have to wait awhile to see a big difference. 

"Nothing significant until we go beyond 2020," he said. 

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