PEI

What created Charlottetown's housing crisis

While short-term rentals have drawn the ire of Charlottetown residents trying to find places to live, there are a number of factors contributing to the shortage of housing, according to officials with the city.

City planner says nailing down the cause of the housing shortage is complicated

'For those couple years where we're kind of a low point, you know, I think we're still seeing the aftershocks, the impacts from that,' says Robert Zilke, a planner with the city. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

While short-term rentals have drawn the ire of Charlottetown residents trying to find places to live, there are a number of factors contributing to the shortage of housing, according to officials with the city.

Recently at a public meeting, city planners presented 10 years of data from Statistics Canada and the city's permit logs.

It shows that although the population has been steadily increasing since 2009, a big dip in construction — especially of multi-family dwellings — hit the city hard. Multi-family dwellings are buildings that have more than two units.

"It was 2013 where we start to see a decline in construction and that was mostly to do with every category ... but the biggest impact category was definitely the multi-dwelling category," said Robert Zilke, a planner with the city. 

He said in 2012 there were 150 multi-family units built in the city, which dropped to 53 in 2013 and 12 in 2014. 

This chart shows population growth compared to housing starts in the city. (City of Charlottetown)

Zilke said nailing down the cause of the housing shortage is complicated. 

Infrastructure upgrades

"One was that we didn't have enough land zoned medium or high density which is the R3 and R4 zones," he said.

"We were at the capacity for our regional well system, which they had to open up the second well to accommodate that. And then also of course expand the sewage treatment plant as well."

All of that led to fewer permits being issued. 

Recently, the city has worked to fix the problems by expanding the well system, upgrading the sewage treatment plant and making changes to the planning bylaw that allows more density in R3 zones. The city is also now offering incentives for developers who will build affordable units.

Robert Zilke, urban planner with the city, says the construction industry is still catching up after a big dip in building, especially multi-family dwellings. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Zilke said all of that has led to more construction, especially in multi-family dwellings. Right now there are 97 units approved, surpassing the 89 built in 2018, but Zilke said the city is still trying to get ahead. 

"For those couple years where we're kind of a low point, you know, I think we're still seeing the aftershocks, the impacts from that. Which ... I believe continues to do that to the housing shortage itself."

Construction struggles 

And getting those units built is still a challenge according to the Construction Association of P.E.I. It pointed to labour shortages and other factors over the past few years, which have contributed to the housing shortfall. 

"Our designers are really swamped right now," said Sam Sanderson, general manager of the association. 

"Then you've got to, you know, find the workers to do it and, you know, is always a challenge no matter what."

Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of P.E.I., says it will take time to catch up. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

The association recently announced new initiatives to try and get more skilled workers on P.E.I., but Sanderson said everything takes time. 

"We have to work together. Nothing's going to happen overnight, we're not going to be able to build, you know, 2,000 units and in a very short period of time. It's going to take time."

Going forward

Greg Rivard, chair of the city's planning committee, said there have been a lot of contributing factors to the housing crisis, which he calls "a perfect storm."

Those include immigration increases — both internationally and inter-provincially — the addition of short-term rentals to the market and the decrease in multi-family units for those few years.

'I think there needs to be a lot more planning put in place and not so much of the knee jerk reaction,' says Greg Rivard, chair of planning for the city. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

He said going forward there has to be better planning — including working better with the province — if growing the population is a priority. 

"I think there needs to be a lot more planning put in place and not so much of the knee jerk reaction.... I think that we can project these things a little better," he said.

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a video journalist in P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC N.L.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.