Greens say P.E.I. rental registry taking too long
'We really need to take a comprehensive look,' says minister
The provincial Greens say the government isn't moving fast enough on its promise of a rental registry.
Last week, the government released a report outlining the progress made by its different efforts on housing. Among the initiatives currently in the works, the province reiterated its commitment to conduct a third-party study on what a rental registry would look like on the Island.
But Green Party housing critic Karla Bernard says the Conservatives are taking too long to begin the process.
"That's lip service in my mind," she said. "My Old Apartment, they had a rental registry up and running so quickly. And so the government keeps saying 'oh yes we're looking into that, oh yes we're going to do it.' And they've been saying that now for well over a year and a half."
My Old Apartment's rental registry is a private initiative which launched in February in response to the government's perceived lack of progress on the file.
Social Development and Housing Minister Brad Trivers said checks and balances prevent the government from creating a registry as fast.
"If you look at it from a government perspective there's very few ways to actually get that information and there's all kinds of concerns," he said. "We really need to take a comprehensive look at first of all what we would want in a rental registry, where information would come from, how we would put it up there.
"And so that's why we went to a third party who has some expertise in that area and I'm anticipating that report is going to be ready very soon."
The report also said that the province is continuing to work toward fully implementing the P.E.I.-Canada Housing Benefit, leading to an expansion of its current mobile rental voucher program.
In 2018, the government pledged to create 1,000 new affordable housing units through a combination of new builds and the vouchers.
It said an additional 600 vouchers had been provided for renters over the last 18 months, representing an annual investment of $2.7 million. The program gives these to eligible families and individuals so that they only have to spend 25 per cent of their income on rent.
The government is set to double the number of vouchers given out to 2,200 per year by 2028.
Ottawa and P.E.I. have allocated $14.2 million and $26.5 million in funding for the program respectively for a total investment of $40.7 million over 10 years, from 2018 to 2028.
"It's a really great way to help people with their rent, because they can stay where they are, they don't need to move," Trivers said.
"And we don't end up having clusters of people who are all low income, it really creates diverse communities and that's exactly what we want,"
But Bernard said the vouchers do little to address the root problems leading to a lack of affordable housing, such as issues of capacity.
"It artificially inflates rents, and it enriches the landlords," she said. "There's no doubt that these are really crucial to get people through some precarious living situations right now, so there's a need for those. However those are just Band-Aid solutions and really do nothing to actually help the problem."
Trivers said the vouchers are just "one tool in the toolbox" among the rest of its programs.
P.E.I.'s vacancy rates have increased since October 2019 from 1.2 per cent to 2.6 per cent. The report said that there were 2,667 housing starts in 2019 and 2020, with 1,359 completions last year.
The Greens, however, say that the improvement in vacancy rates may only be a short blip, with short-term rentals set to return to that market once the province exits the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There's some distortion in what's actually happening with housing availability in P.E.I.," Bernard said.
Trivers said that nothing so far points to short-term rentals having such impact.
"Based on the numbers that I'm seeing and with the pandemic hopefully ending and opening up, I haven't seen the numbers indicate that they're going to drastically impact the vacancy rate," he said.
"Time will tell. I think we're going to see higher vacancy rates this winter, however long-term we have to keep building. We can't let up."
In January of this year, a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation market analyst told CBC that as tourism starts back up on the Island, units on the long-term rental market may go back to being vacation rentals.
With files from Laura Chapin