PEI

P.E.I. vacancy rate drops to 1.5 per cent

With rents rising and empty apartments getting harder to find, P.E.I.'s Official Opposition took the PC government to task Wednesday for what it characterized as a failure to address the province's housing crisis.

Opposition blames government for ‘failure’ to invest in public housing

CMHC figures show rents on P.E.I. increased on average about nine per cent from 2020 to 2021, with the cost of a two-bedroom apartment rising from $958 per month to $1,055.

With rents rising and empty apartments getting harder to find, P.E.I.'s Official Opposition took the PC government to task Wednesday for what it characterized as a failure to address the province's housing crisis.

New data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation show apartment vacancy rates in P.E.I. — for years among the lowest in the country — took a drop in 2021.

The overall vacancy rate in Charlottetown, Cornwall, Stratford and Summerside was 1.5 per cent in CHMC's annual housing survey last October.

The figures also show rents on P.E.I. increased on average about nine per cent from 2020 to 2021, with the cost of a two-bedroom apartment rising from $958 per month to $1,055.

"Our housing crisis is directly tied to a government failure to adequately invest in housing, particularly public housing," said Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker during question period.

"We're seeing incredible population growth in Prince Edward Island," responded Premier Dennis King.

The Greens have said they want to see changes in new tenancy legislation, including a recognition of housing as a human right, a cap on maximum annual rent increases, and the continuation of a moratorium on renovictions. This file photo is from 2021. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

"When we saw the beginning of the boom of our population in early 2000, we were slow to react, and we've been playing catch-up [with housing] ever since. We continue to play catch-up."

Canada's smallest province has for years had the fastest-growing population, a trend that continued with the 2021 census.

Statistics Canada's current estimate for P.E.I.'s population is 165,936.

Vacancy rate had been rising

P.E.I.'s vacancy rate bottomed out in 2018 at 0.3 per cent, but had risen in recent years.

The 2021 rate of 1.5 per cent is more than a full percentage point lower than 2020's rate of 2.6 per cent.

The only provinces with lower vacancy rates were Nova Scotia and B.C.

Housing Minister Brad Trivers said the province has been buying up existing properties with the goal of converting them into social housing. This file photo is from 2021. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly )

The King government has pledged to deliver what it has referred to as 1,200 new affordable housing units over five years through a mix of government builds, private developments and rental subsidies on existing units.

According to the province's latest progress update, as of March 2021, 166 new government-owned affordable housing units had been built or were under construction, along with 280 units from private developers.

Not for the first time, the Opposition criticized the King government Wednesday for its "over-reliance on private investment" to solve the housing crisis and its failure to access federal rapid housing funding, referencing a project in Nova Scotia to convert a former hotel into supportive housing units.

But Housing Minister Brad Trivers said the province has in fact been buying up existing properties with the goal of converting them into social housing.

"We're buying new housing that's coming up — duplexes, multi-unit dwellings, these sort of things — so that we can provide additional housing, additional social housing, and you'll see that we'll have a number of announcements in the future of places that we have bought," Trivers told the legislature.

Rising real estate values

Economic Development Minister Matthew MacKay said rising real estate values and construction costs in P.E.I. are such that people can't afford the mortgage on a new home anymore.

"The average house price right now in Charlottetown of $400,000, by the time you put the taxes into that, somebody needs to pay $4,000 a month just to pay their mortgage," MacKay said. "It can't be done."

"That's the problem," came the response from the Opposition side of the chamber.

The King government has said it will put forward new tenancy legislation in this sitting, amounting to the first reworking of rental laws in the province in 30 years.

But the Greens have said they want to see changes in the bill, including a recognition of housing as a human right, a cap on maximum annual rent increases, and the continuation of a moratorium on renovictions — evictions of tenants by their landlords in order to renovate units – implemented in the fall of 2021.

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