Opposition decries 'zero action' from P.E.I. government to avert housing crisis
Province looking to consolidate housing portfolio, introduce short-term rental tax, premier says
P.E.I. renters run the risk of losing whatever gains they've made in the housing market as soon as demand for short-term rentals returns, the province's Opposition leader said during question period Tuesday.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, P.E.I.'s vacancy rate reached 2.6 per cent in October 2020, roughly on par with Vancouver and Montreal, but nearly a full percentage point below Toronto.
For the two years prior to that P.E.I. had the lowest vacancy rate in the country, bottoming out at 0.3 per cent in 2018, and climbing to 1.2 per cent in 2019.
"The slight improvement in vacancy rates recently is most likely due, largely, to short-term vacation rental units being switched to long-term units," said Bevan-Baker said.
That echoes an assessment from CMHC, one that was referenced in government's recent throne speech in February.
"Once the pandemic is behind us, the chances are that these units will revert to being STRs and the intensity of the rental situation here on P.E.I. will ratchet back up again," Bevan-Baker said.
He framed the lack of progress in the regulation of the short-term rental industry as part of a larger failure of the current government to address the housing crisis in the nearly two years since the last election. He cited, among other things, illegal rent increases and a delay in introducing new legislation to govern residential rentals.
"Zero action by this government to mitigate the affordable housing crisis," Bevan-Baker said.
"Am I wasting my time asking you to have any sort of action at all on P.E.I.'s housing crisis?"
"There is record investment in housing in this province," the premier responded.
"Is it enough? No, it isn't. It isn't, but we continue to do more."
'Playing a lot of catch up'
After question period the premier said in an interview the province is considering an accommodation tax as a means of regulating the short-term rental industry.
"I do believe we should, as a province, be charging an accommodation tax in that regard that could be shared with housing across the board. I think we've been exploring that and looking into that," King said.
Asked about the impact short-term rentals have had on P.E.I.'s low vacancy rates, King said "many factors" have played a role, and spoke specifically about immigration.
He spoke of the "incredible increase in the number of new Canadians and new Islanders" who came to P.E.I. under the previous Liberal government.
"I don't think the government of the day was ready for that influx," he said.
"We've been playing a lot of catch up in our housing, particularly in our two larger centres, ever since."
More 'comprehensive' approach to housing administration
The premier agreed with one line of questioning from the Opposition.'
The government does need to consolidate housing-related programming and spending within a single department, he said, adding that discussion took place around the cabinet table Tuesday.
Currently, the Department of Social Development and Housing is responsible for government-owned social housing, while the Department of Education is responsible for the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, the agency that regulates the rental industry. Building standards are overseen through the Department of Fisheries and Communities, and licensing of short-term rentals is through the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Culture.
Consolidating more of those duties within the Department of Social Development and Housing, King said, would allow for "a more holistic and overall comprehensive approach to housing in this province."