'Cheaper, warmer and newer': P.E.I. seniors move into new affordable building

It was move-in day Wednesday for Vernon MacDonald and some other P.E.I. seniors. 

He is one of the seniors who got a spot in a new 44-unit affordable seniors' building in Charlottetown on Norwood Road.

MacDonald said it feels great to be moving into a new home, especially something affordable. He was on the waiting list for affordable housing with the province for almost a year.

"It was a little nerve racking. I didn't know if I was going to get one or not, but they came through for me," he said.

MacDonald said the place he was living in was put up for sale, and on top of that he has medical issues such as diabetes. He also suffered a heart attack and has been through a triple bypass.

He said it feels great to be able to afford a place to live. Rent in the building is subsidized and tenants pay 25 per cent of their income. 

MacDonald said his new unit is "cheaper, warmer and newer" than the place he lived before.

Unaffordable housing

MacDonald is 64 and on social assistance, now that he has a place the plan is "to move in and relax."

Laura Meader/CBC

He said he looked for other units, but they were expensive.

"Some people can't afford $1,200, $1,300 a month in rent — it's crazy," MacDonald said.

The Charlottetown building opened Wednesday, it's part of an action plan to address a lack of housing. The province wants to create 1,000 new affordable units over the next five years. 

Provincial officials said many projects are underway now and they expect them to make a big difference.

"We have 366 units that are at various stages of completion," said Sonya Cobb, director of housing services with the province.

"All of these units are new coming into the market, it helps refresh the housing inventory right across the province."

Laura Meader/CBC

She said the new Charlottetown building will offer seniors' apartments in good condition at a low price, something that's hard to find with P.E.I.'s low vacancy rate. Subsidized units are assigned based on their level of need of clients, Cobb said.

"Seniors that have been living in not-so-great conditions and still paying a large price for those not-so-great conditions have the opportunity to come have their needs met," Cobb said.

The Charlottetown vacancy rate measured at 0.2 per cent in the fall of 2018.

Laura Meader/CBC

Developer Tim Banks is working on three housing projects for the province, including a building in Stratford which will have 30 affordable units.

The units he is working on in Stratford, Montague and on Acadian Drive in Charlottetown will be ready to move into Aug. 1 next year, said Banks, CEO of APM Group.

Mixed pricing

The projects also have regular-priced units too, likely double the rent or more of what subsidized tenants pay, Banks said.

"If we did not put the market rents in the same building we could not make the economics work," he said.

Banks said his company is approached daily by people looking for housing on the Island.

"There are some landlords out there that are pushing the envelope in terms of the price point. I think with competition and more product coming online it will be to the benefit of tenants, and that's the way it should be," he said.

Will it get better?

Cobb said government is pleased with progress in terms of building units, but knows it's still tough to find a place to live.

The wait list for subsidized housing is about 1,000 households, Cobb said.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) officials said they expect vacancy rates to get a bit better, and while it will still be a tight market the affordable units being supported by government will help.

Chris Janes, senior economics analyst with CMHC, said "I think over the next 12 to 18 months we will certainly see a lot of the pressure lifted off that affordable side."

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