Opposition pushes P.E.I. government to build more public housing
'We're paying for people to live in conditions that aren't suitable for livestock'
The Opposition is pushing the P.E.I. government to build more public housing, instead of relying on supplements that help cover the rent with private landlords.
The province's approach to providing housing supports for Islanders came under scrutiny by MLAs Wednesday during a legislative standing committee on health and social development.
"Putting vouchers and rental supplements into the system is not a long-term plan, it's a short-term Band-Aid," said the Green's Hannah Bell, MLA for Charlottetown-Belvedere.
"Is there a long-term plan in your department for the provision of seniors and family housing?"
Sonya Cobb, P.E.I.'s director of housing services, said the province does have a plan and it's working for those who choose to use the vouchers.
"They are currently in units that exist in the market and that are currently meeting their needs," said Cobb — housing that's close to their jobs and family supports and to schools for their children.
Vouchers versus public housing
Rental vouchers provide a set amount of money to help cover the rent with a private landlord.
Public housing, which the Opposition MLAs are proposing government place more priority on, is built by the province. Tenants pay up to 25 per cent of their income to live there.
With the current housing crisis on P.E.I., Bell said there is "a growing gap" between what people can afford for housing and what's available on the market.
In its last housing update in February 2020, the province reported creating 1,000 new rental vouchers, compared to 100 new government-owned housing units.
More recent numbers provided to CBC News Wednesday listed 1,005 mobile rental vouchers currently being provided with another 126 public housing units currently under construction.
The province also indicated there would be an additional 200 vouchers provided by the end of March, bringing the total vouchers to 1,278. There are currently 1,609 public housing units (including 1,122 for seniors and 487 for families).
Cobb said the province is spending $9.2 million in rental vouchers to keep people housed.
Trish Altass, Green MLA for Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke, said the current shortage is forcing some Islanders to live in substandard housing, even with a rental voucher.
'It's really distressing'
Cobb said if there are problems with the living condition of a rental unit, such as mould, housing staff work with tenants to try to find them another place to live.
But Bell said that's a problem if there are no other available apartments.
"There is nothing about that, that's OK," she said. "We're paying for people to live in conditions that aren't suitable for livestock.
"It's really frustrating and it is really distressing."
Brad Trivers, the only cabinet minister on the housing committee, said the Opposition was misrepresenting the situation.
"There's a small number of units that are unsuitable, but they're not unsafe," said Trivers.
Freedom to move
He said if a unit is unsuitable, tenants "have the freedom to choose to make their own decision about whether they stay there or not."
"There would be individuals that are in units that we would not recommend that they live in," said Cobb. However, she said these adults can decide whether they can live there until a better unit becomes available.
She said finding another apartment, though, can be a challenge due to the housing shortage.
P.E.I.'s vacancy rate is hovering around one per cent.
Bell said the province needs to develop an affordable housing strategy and determine where that housing is most needed.
Cobb said she expected an update on housing needs and availability to be released in February.
The MLAs also discussed the hundreds of Islanders on a housing registry waiting for an apartment.
"We're working diligently every day to make sure it's better for everyone on that registry," deputy housing minister David Keedwell told the committee.
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With files from Kerry Campbell