'We are human beings': Charlottetown residents plead with city to shut down development

Tenants of the eight buildings Holland College would like to buy to build a new residence are shocked at the news that Charlottetown's planning board has approved the project.

Tenants are trying to stop new residence for Holland College

Some residents and businesses are concerned about Holland College's plan to acquire buildings on Grafton and Cumberland streets for a new student residence. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Tenants of the eight buildings Holland College would like to buy to build a new residence are shocked at the news the Charlottetown's planning board has approved the project. 

"So we are kind of like lost, we don't know what to do. We completely don't know where to go, what to do, how to move from this place," said Madan Kumar Giri, who has lived in one of the buildings for 11 years.

'We are human beings'

He has been speaking for many of the residents at public meetings and says most are scared for what will happen next.

"We are human beings. They can't act inhumane [toward] the tenants who are living here. Sometimes people's voice will be above the law," he said.

Giri says the majority of the tenants are on low income or rely on social assistance. Some have disabilities, and a lot are new immigrants. He says there is no way that they can find housing for the same price they are paying, which he estimates a one-bedroom apartment to be around $500 per month in the buildings.

For Giri himself, he has a growing family to think of, and says he is even thinking of turning to protest if the deal goes through.

"My wife is pregnant, she's not working. We already have one child and we are going to have another one. She's not working, I'm the single person in the family to make money," he said. "So, I might make $1,500 to $1,600 a month. If I pay $1,100 a month, how can I run my family?"

"If I don't find affordable housing ... I put my stuff on the middle of the road and I go for the hunger strike, doesn't matter if they send police or who else for me."

Businesses will close

It's not only people who live in the area that are affected, but also two businesses — Sadat's Cuisine and the Asian Market. Owners of both businesses say they have poured upwards of $50,000 into improvements and 
now they may lose everything. 

"I might stay. How long I can stay, and after that, I have to close it. If I close, I lose my job, my wife loses a job, my kids lose a job and the whole Muslim community losing a Halal place," said Said Sadat, owner of Sadat's Cuisine. 

Sadat says right before summer, especially one expected to be flush with tourists for Canada 150, is the worst time to have to close a business.

Sadat immigrated himself, and built his business with his family. He feels that this move is bound to discourage other newcomers from opening up shop. 

"They're thinking it's a risk in P.E.I. to open a new business. I am right now. I'm losing my business and my job because we can not trust in this government, we can not trust in city hall."

Community supports disagree with plan 

Those who work with people in need say city developments need to be based on more than the proposal. They point to the recent approval of the Chestnut Passmore development as another example of a loss of affordable housing.

They say a master plan for future development is needed and must take into account the needs of all residents. 

"It becomes a real issue in terms of how we value people, how we make decisions that are citizen based as opposed to economically based," said Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.

"When did we stop living in a society and move to an economy, you know, so why are decisions always made on business model as opposed to a caring model of looking after our community members, those are the questions I have, and I think city officials and provincial government officials need to answer those questions."

Issue comes up in the legislature 

MLA Brad Trivers brought the issue to the floor Thursday in the legislature, reminding cabinet that they approved a $6 million loan to Holland College for the residence. He then went after Minister for Workforce and Advanced Learning Sonny Gallant. 

"This minister is bulldozing a large part of this community with many immigrants who moved to our province to build a better life," he said. 

"They've poured a lot of money into small businesses in this new stage of their lives in Charlottetown. Minster, why do you support destroying these people's homes and bulldozing the businesses they've worked so hard to build here?"

Gallant pointed to the fact that Holland College is trying to help the residents find new affordable homes, and said it comes down to moving business forward. 

"This is an initiative of the college. And you know, we're going to do what we can as a government to help our youth get an education."

The decision on the development will go to city council for a vote on Monday evening.