What Kelowna can teach Charlottetown about its housing crisis

Charlottetown is not the only rapidly growing city in Canada, and not the only one to suffer a housing shortage as a result.

'It certainly doesn't turn around in six months or a year'

Both Charlottetown and Kelowna have faced housing shortages in the last few years. (CBC/City of Kelowna)

Charlottetown is not the only rapidly-growing city in Canada, and not the only one to suffer a housing shortage as a result.

Over the last five years the population of Charlottetown, now about 36,000 people, has grown 11.7 per cent, and since 2013 the rental vacancy rate has seen a corresponding crash. In 2013, it was 7.9 per cent, and by 2018 it had shrunk to an almost invisible 0.2 per cent.

At the opposite end of the country Kelowna, B.C., was experiencing a growth rate of 9.9 per cent. The rental vacancy rate was already low at 1.8 per cent in 2013, and when it fell to 0.7 per cent in 2015, the city felt it needed to take action.

"It's been going on on and off now for 15 or 16 years, but our current measures were put in place in 2015 in response to very low vacancy rates," said Ryan Smith, the divisional director of planning and development services for Kelowna, a city of about 128,000 people.

The city put together a package of incentives, both grants and tax-based, to encourage more building in the town. Smith said the city also got luck with falling interest rates that encouraged building. Over the next few years, the initiatives generated more than 3,000 new rental units.

'It takes a while'

But the city did not see results right away. After bringing the new programs online, it saw vacancy rates fall further, to 0.2 per cent in 2017. Then last year a rebound, with the vacancy rate rising to 1.9 per cent.

Smith said turning around a housing shortage requires patience.

"It certainly doesn't turn around in six months or a year," he said.

"To build rental housing, development of any size, really takes two to three years from when a developer meets with a municipality, buys land, gets a project approved, and then starts building it. The construction time is always going to be between 24 and 36 months. So to get occupancy of those projects it takes a while."

Last year, the P.E.I. government and the City of Charlottetown started to move to create more housing, with the province funding direct builds of affordable housing, The city is working on tax incentives, and reconsidering zoning to allow for higher-density housing.

Developers have responded by submitting applications for record values of building permits, but the experience of Kelowna is none of that will result in higher vacancy rates this year, or even next.

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Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at


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