Housing crisis needs action, parties agree, but approaches differ
Government could subsidize, or build housing itself, but all leaders want quick action
With vacancy rates close to zero per cent, P.E.I. is in the midst of a housing crisis, which makes it a key issue in the current election campaign.
Wade MacLauchlan's Liberals released their housing action plan in July of 2018, and unveiled a spate of housing announcements in the months and weeks leading up to the election call.
According to the party's election platform that action plan will leave the province with "1,400 new affordable units built with government support and easier access to rent supplements."
MacLauchlan said his government moved quickly on the issue.
"We are addressing the whole issue of the supply of affordable housing … with rent supplements which we have more than doubled," he said.
He added government was active in the development of building affordable housing in communities across the Island.
The Liberals have announced two specific measures to make it easier for renters and homeowners on P.E.I. — a tax credit worth up to $300 per year for those in rental units costing less than $1,500 per month, and a 10 per cent reduction in property taxes on the first $200,000 in assessed value of a person's principal residence.
Greens ask, what took so long?
But the leader of the Green Party, Peter Bevan-Baker, said the Liberal's plan to deal with the housing crisis should have come years earlier.
"This government has sat on what was obviously evolving over the last number of years, a situation where we were going to be in a real housing crunch," said Bevan-Baker.
"[They] sat back and watched that develop and did not do anything proactively to try and alleviate it."
The Green Party said it would spend $5.5 million in each of the first two years of a new mandate to increase the supply of affordable housing on P.E.I.
Bevan-Baker also said the province can play a further role in facilitating construction by making provincial land available to developers, something the PCs said will also be in their platform.
"If we can increase densification in our downtown core by providing land to developers, that will go a long way," said Bevan-Baker.
As an example, he said the Greens are open to the possibility of considering the site of the former Prince Edward Home in Charlottetown for development.
Get it done faster, say PCs
PC Leader Dennis King said the housing crisis isn't just an issue in Charlottetown and Summerside.
"It's in Montague. It's in Alberton and all points in between," he said. "I've knocked on doors in Oyster Bed [with] a single dad with three kids who can't find an apartment."
King gives credit to government for the work done so far.
"We've been addressing the problem to a certain level," he said.
"There has to be a sense of urgency to work faster."
The PCs said their platform, once it's released, will include a means-tested property tax credit for Islanders 60 and older worth 50 per cent of their property tax bill, up to $1,000.
The PCs said they'll also double thresholds for funding available under provincial home renovation programs, and introduce a rental voucher program to help low-income Islanders on the wait list for affordable housing.
Focus on public housing, says NDP
NDP Leader Joe Byrne said the province's current strategy relies too much on providing rent subsidies, which he said doesn't increase the available supply of housing.
He said housing investments should focus on government-owned units, rather than providing subsidies for the private sector.
"What we lack is enough public investment in public housing," said Byrne.
"We've seen all kinds of subsidies into the private sector. The private sector, they're good at what they do but their job is to produce a profit. The public sector's job is to take care of people. And when we invest in public housing, it has to remain in public hands."
Regulating short-term rentals
The PCs, NDP and Greens all say the unrestricted growth of short-term vacation rentals through services like Airbnb has cut into the supply of affordable housing for year-round residents, and the parties agree the province needs to step in to provide further regulation of the industry.
PC leader Dennis King suggested a limit on how many units in a new building can be devoted to short-term compared with long-term rentals.
"Maybe we have to get into the weeds a little bit on that because if not, if it's just the Wild West that's allowed to proceed here, I think maybe the housing crisis will continue to grow," King said.
For the Greens, that fix includes a limit on how many properties can be operated by the same owner, along with taxing those properties at business rates.
The NDP said short-term rentals should be restricted to operating only out of commercial zones, instead of residential.
MacLauchlan said P.E.I. is one of the only provinces requiring registration and enforcing standards for Airbnb owners. In the past his government has balked at the notion of further regulating the industry, saying that's for municipalities to do and expressing concerns for the potential impact on tourism.
But MacLauchlan now says the province is "studying the situation with Airbnb and how that affects the overall supply" of housing, and that the province hasn't "ruled out taking an initiative."