PEI·No Fixed Address

Affordable housing construction hampered by red tape, say developers

Some P.E.I. developers say too much red tape and a lack of political will stand in the way of building more affordable housing.

'We should be standing here today and the building should be behind me'

Developer Tim Banks hopes to get started on his micro-unit project soon on Richmond Street in Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Some P.E.I. developers say too much red tape and a lack of political will stand in the way of building more affordable housing.

Tim Banks, the CEO of APM Group, has been trying to build an apartment building with 23 micro units on Richmond Street for a few years now. 

"We should be standing here today and the building should be behind me," Banks said.

He planned for the rents to be about 20 per cent below market value, ranging from $700 to $1,000 a month for one- and two-bedroom units.

Concerns from neighbouring building

There were multiple meetings with city hall and the public, and two hearings before the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, or IRAC. 

Banks says he's sought a legal opinion and despite an upcoming court challenge he expects to start pouring the foundation soon for his new apartment building. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Banks ultimately got approval from the city and IRAC ruled in his favour as well, but then the condominium group next to the proposed development challenged the IRAC decision.

We have a level of distrust with the process because there's so many people watching over our shoulders.— Peter Brown

Banks is now waiting for a date for a hearing in P.E.I. Supreme Court.

The condominium group declined to comment to CBC News, but documents filed in connection to the IRAC appeal said the owners were concerned the project was too large for the lot and too close to their building, reducing their privacy. 

"It's unfortunate, but that's what you have to go through as a developer in this city," Banks said. 

'It's a political issue'

Affordable housing is getting lots of attention now, Banks noted, adding it's too bad his project has faced so many roadblocks. 

The condominium group beside Banks' project has objected to it, saying it's too big for the lot size and would affect their privacy. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"It's a political issue so all these politicians are shooting their yaps out about affordable housing and what they're going to do about it, but I never seen any of them down here in support of our project," Banks said. 

He said restrictions for height, parking, and landscaping sometimes don't make sense. 

For example, he cited the heritage area of Charlottetown's downtown known as the 500 lots, where building height is limited to three storeys.

Wants height restrictions eased

Banks did get approval for his Richmond Street complex to be four storeys, but he believes Charlottetown should follow the lead of many other cities, which allow five- and six-storey buildings.

"If you go up in height, you drive down the cost of the units and then the units themselves can be rented lower," Banks said. 

He said there should be a better balance between the rights of neighbours and those of developers.

APM has also responded to the province's recent request for proposals to build affordable housing — Banks has submitted ideas for several communities across P.E.I. and offered to donate land he owns in Summerside to anyone willing to build affordable housing, he said. 

Calls to simplify approval process

Summerside developer Peter Brown is planning his own affordable housing project: a large apartment building on Front Street in the city's downtown, and an addition to a building known as The Hub, which is mainly used by students and as a boutique hotel in the summer. 

Developer Peter Brown stands inside The Hub student housing building, which he hopes to soon expand. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We do have room to do 64 units, and it will probably be two phases and we want to split it 50/50 between market and affordable units," he said.

Brown still has to put together a proposal and get financing, but he hopes his idea won't get caught up in delays. 

"We as developers do plans, submit them, then they get put through the planning board and that can go on for three or four iterations of the plan," he said. "Well, that takes a lot of time, energy, effort and human energy — as well as cost."

He wishes that approval process could be simplified.

'Becoming less attractive to build'

"As red seal, national building-code trained builders, we have a level of distrust with the process because there's so many people watching over our shoulders," Brown said.

This parking lot in the area of First and Foundry streets in downtown Summerside is where Brown hopes to build affordable housing. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"It is becoming less attractive to build and less affordable."

Brown has lots of ideas and energy to keep pushing for more projects, specifically restoration of old buildings, he said.

His past projects include the former Journal Pioneer building which is now commercial space and condos, a former nurses' residence which became a seniors home, the former Co-Op feed building which is is now condos and The Hub, which was a grocery store.

"Fixing up some of our eyesores within our existing community has been a backbone of what we've done," Brown said.

Governments need to move faster, say developers

Brown had hoped to restore the former Summerset Manor into affordable seniors housing. He submitted a proposal to the province that was rejected, and the building was torn down

Brown shows a piece of land behind the P.E.I. Tax Centre in Summerside which he feels would also be ideal for an affordable housing development. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Brown said a recent urban core development plan adopted by Summerside should help make it easier for developers, and he likes the provincial housing action plan announced earlier this year.

But he said with the housing situation at a crisis point, governments need to move faster, and be more open to ideas from developers. 

He said tax and energy rebates would help, along with funding support for buildings.

Both Brown and Banks have been talking with various levels of government and said they hope to start building in a few months.

Brown converted the former Journal-Pioneer building into a new commercial space and condominiums. (Laura Meader/CBC)

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About the Author

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

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