Long waiting lists and few vacancies: Affordable housing in P.E.I.

Organizations that offer affordable housing in P.E.I. say there's a desperate need for more units.

'Some people wait for years, some people wait forever'

An apartment building owned by the Kings Square Housing group in Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Organizations that offer affordable housing in P.E.I. say there's a desperate need for more units.

The director of provincial housing services, Sonya Cobb described provincial waiting lists as "daunting" when it comes to so-called social housing which is subsidised according to people's wages. 

"For seniors, we have a wait list of approximately 900 people, and for family housing approximately 400 families," said Cobb.

"Staff do their best to help people manage their circumstances."  

The province says its waiting lists for subsidised housing have grown over the last five years. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The Kings Square Non-Profit Housing Corporation also sees a steady stream of applications. Both groups charge tenants 25 per cent of their income for rent. 

"Some people wait for years, some people wait forever, some people never get a subsidy," said administrator Bill Campbell.

Both the province and the non-profit group say those who need it most get in first. 

"The wait list is very, very high, it's in the hundreds," said Campbell. "We definitely need more housing." 

Campbell said they have people come into the office everyday looking for an affordable place to live. 

The housing corporation mostly serves mostly single parents with children.

"The subsidy really improves their quality of life unbelievably, if you only have to spend 25 per cent of your total income on housing, that's a big break for people," he said.

Affordable apartments see little turn over

The Abe Zakem House is a 23 unit apartment building in downtown Charlottetown, built by the Kiwanis Club of Charlottetown in 2004 to provide affordable housing to people. A one bedroom apartment rents for $650 a month and a two bedroom apartment is $825 a month. 

Property manager Matthew O'Halloran said some people have lived there since it opened and there has been very little turn over lately. 

"In previous years, I may see two or three of those units, maybe even more turn over, this year I essentially saw none," he said. "There's a shortage of low-rental options within the city."

When the project began, tenants were required to fill out a low income application, providing proof of their income, however now the units no longer require that,

A family housing unit owned by the Provincial housing services.

Non-profit group hopes to build more

Kings Square Non-Profit hopes to build more units in the near future. Campbell said he has been in discussions with the province and hopes some of that federal money will flow to their group. 

"I hope that non-profit housing organizations like Kings Square will get a chance to develop a new project," said Campbell. 

Campbell said it's hard to tell desperate people there's no unit for them. 

"It's very frustrating to try and give somebody hope but in the same breath there's no guarantee that they'll ever get one" 

Provincial plans in the works

The province said the recent $7.2 million dollar investment will go towards 50 senior units, expected to be completed this year. There are also plans to develop a long term housing strategy.

Cobb explained the province reviews the list every year.  

"It's hard to talk to people about where they are on the wait list, because it is based on need," said Cobb. 

She said over the last five years officials have seen the list grow. The province said some people may be on the list who are not ready to come into seniors housing — but officials add P.E.I. has an aging demographic, so even as new units are built, the waiting list is expected to grow. 

"People are consistently calling us to say where am I on the wait list." said Cobb.