'Rents have just gone sky high': Cardigan candidates, voters weigh in on housing crisis

Housing shortages, rising prices and low vacancy rates have been tough on many Islanders — and not just in Charlottetown. CBC News looks at the housing issue in the federal riding of Cardigan.

'It's nothing that a senior can really afford'

Peggy James said there was nothing available when she began her search for a place to live almost a year ago. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Peggy James has struggled to find a place to live ever since she went through a divorce and had to sell her home in January. The 76-year-old couldn't find an affordable apartment in the Montague area. 

"I've always lived in the country here on the Island," said James, who wanted to stay in the area. "I was very worried." 

James said she was hoping to find a place where she could be on her own, but any available apartments were too expensive.

"It's nothing that a senior can really afford — the rents have just gone sky high," she said. 

She also had to give up her dog, as she couldn't find a dog-friendly spot. 

"I had him 10 years, and it was one of the most difficult things I had to do was to part with him," she said. 

James was able to find a room to rent, but had to move to Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

James eventually found a place, but had to move to Charlottetown where she rents a room in a home with a shared kitchen and living space. 

She said there are a lot of people in her situation.

"I would like to see a policy for senior citizens that they would have a decent income and a decent place to live," she said.

Supply low, price high

Staff at the Montague food bank hear about the struggles people are facing. Many end up at the food bank because they have to spend too much on rent said Vivian Dourte, the organization's treasurer.

'People can only stretch their money so far,' says Vivian Dourte at the Montague Food Bank, who sees people who need help with food because they have spent their money on rent.

"It comes out of their food budget, so we have a lot of people that are coming here because of that," said Dourte, 

"There's not a whole lot available at all," she said of housing availability. "There's a huge need for places to live." 

The Rotary Club of Montague recently hired a consultant to do an analysis of housing issues in eastern P.E.I. The report suggests that the number of new listings for homes for June 2019, at 165, was 84 fewer listings compared to 2010.

The report also showed the median price of a home in eastern P.E.I. increased from $79,516 in 2009 to $151,000 in 2019, but that household incomes are not increasing at the same rate. 

The inventory of affordable housing needs to be increased, the analysis concludes.

"Demand for housing in eastern P.E.I  is being influenced by several factors such as population growth, immigration, and the desire of current residents to remain in the area," the report states. It also points to housing being lost to short-term vacation rentals. 

According to the latest census data available from 2016, only eight per cent of dwellings in eastern P.E.I. are apartments. 

Construction underway, say Liberals

Liberal candidate Lawrence MacAulay points to affordable housing projects in Montague and Stratford currently under construction. The two buildings will each have 30 affordable units. 

Liberal incumbent Lawrence MacAulay says the federal government has a responsibility to help create more housing.

MacAulay said lack of affordable housing is a problem in many parts of Canada, noting P.E.I.'s population growth has increased demand. 

"There is a shortage of housing here," said MacAulay. "It's a continuing issue that we have to address all the time." 

He said it's up to government to create initiatives to help the private sector to build housing, adding a Liberal government would also continue to fund more affordable housing projects. 

MacAulay said the need for housing is a sign that the economy is doing well. 

"Sometimes great success can create some issues, but they're not bad issues. But it's up to government to make sure they are addressed," he said. 

More units, better incomes say Greens 

Green candidate Glen Beaton says a housing availability has been lost to tourism rentals such as Airbnb.

Green Candidate for Cardigan Glen Beaton says more co-op housing and affordable units are needed. (Laura Meader/CBC )

"There's no question that's a major issue," he said. 

Beaton said many more affordable housing units are needed — whether they're co-op housing or government-subsidized through an improved CMHC program. 

"When you drive through the rural areas our housing in various areas is not very good," said Beaton. "The present program is light on the number of units."

Beaton said wages on P.E.I. have to be increased as well so people can afford housing, adding the Green Party believes in eliminating tuition for post-secondary students, many of whom struggle to afford a place to live while going to school.

Federal land could help: Conservative

Conservative candidate Wayne Phelan says his party has already committed to using excess federal land for affordable housing projects. He said said municipal, provincial and federal governments need to get involved in projects together. 

Conservative candidate Wayne Phelan says solving housing problems will require a joint effort from all levels of government. (Laura Meader/CBC )

"They've got to sit down and say, where do we need the houses, how many do we need? There's no sense building 25 when you have 350 people looking," said Phelan.

"You need more units. It's that simple." 

Phelan said short-term rentals should be taxed the same as any other business, but added he believes owners have the right to do what they want with their properties. 

"I have nothing against Airbnbs — they're very entrepreneurial, they're a good product," 

This building will contain 30 affordable units and is currently under construction in Stratford, near the Trans-Canada Highway. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Phelan said he believes there was a lack of planning by government when it comes to immigration and population growth in P.E.I., which have affected housing supply and price

He said going door to door, he can't believe the number of empty homes he's encountered.

"Somebody owns a half-million dollar home and they're not living in it," Phelan said. "It does worry me," 

NDP calls for more financial help 

Lynne Thiele, Cardigan candidate for the NDP, says co-operative housing and seniors housing needs to be increased. 

"There's simply nothing available," she said. 

Cardigan NDP candidate Lynne Thiele says she believes short-term tourism rentals are creating issues and she would like to see more regulation. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Thiele said the NDP has a plan to lower interest rates on loans which could help people get their first home. 

"I don't know how anybody can afford a home," she said. 

Thiele said creating affordable housing units can't be left to the private sector and that government has to step in.

"You can get those places going and help those places out right away," she said. 

She also said there should be better regulation of short-term rentals.

"A lot of people are taking advantage of ordinary apartments that would have been used for long-term rentals and they're moving people out and creating an Airbnb." 

She questions the benefit to the community if people are being forced out to create a business. 

Short-term rentals not an issue, says CHP

Christian Heritage Party candidate Christene Squires says she knows personally of the shortage of housing — she said she has been approached several times by people asking if she would consider renting out a room in her home. 

Christian Heritage Party candidate for Cardigan Christene Squires says she has been approached by people wanting to rent a room in her home due to the housing crisis. (Laura Meader/CBC )

"Funding needs to be addressed, to bring more funding here for housing," said Squires. 

She's said she's not against short-term rentals.

"That might be something as a second income for somebody — I don't think that's taking away from housing," Squires said. 

Squires said she is concerned about rising housing prices. 

"For the kinds of jobs that are here, it's not going to match," she said. 

Trying to stay positive

James said she plans to stay in her rented room in Charlottetown, and wants to stay positive — she said she gets along well with the homeowner, and it's affordable. 

James says she's settling into her new home in Charlottetown and is trying to make the best of her situation. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"I've just made up my mind that I'm going to like it because I have no other choice," she said.

She misses her old community but makes trips back to the Montague area to visit her doctor, volunteer and do some shopping at the local mall. 

 "I would have like to have stayed in this area, but you know, you deal with what you're given," James said. 

More P.E.I. news


Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.


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