Prince Edward Island is in the midst of what many call a housing crisis. Chronically low vacancy rates coupled with skyrocketing rents, exacerbated by the pandemic, have left many renters desperate to find affordable housing options. Many have nowhere left to turn.
This is the story of Joy Auld, one Island renter, as told to freelance journalist Chelsea Perry.
I saw the fire trucks first.
We had only been gone an hour. My then-boyfriend and I were driving back to my apartment, when we saw flashing lights surrounding the building.
I started to panic.
"Oh my God, that's my building. Stop the car, stop the car."
He tried to calm me down. "No, it's not, relax." He wouldn't stop the car, so I jumped out while it was still moving and raced over to a neighbour.
"Where's my cat?"
And the neighbour was like, "she's fine, don't worry." How was she fine? She was still inside. She had asthma. Of course she's not fine.
I ran around the building screaming her name. "Zoe, Zoe!"
It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I begged to be let inside to go find my cat, but the firefighters wouldn't let me.
The firefighters finally let my boyfriend in the building. He found Zoe, and she was safe, thank God.
That was the second time the building caught on fire during my time there.
That experience was the final straw. I went looking for more stable housing.
That was a decade ago. I'm 51 now and have been in my current apartment for five years. I expected to stay there until after the winter.
I recently received an eviction notice — the fourth time I've been forced to move. It's the latest problem in my struggle to find safe and affordable housing. And I know my story is just one of countless similar stories across Prince Edward Island.
This time, I got a call from my landlord telling me our building was being torn down. All seven tenants have to leave.
So, that's it. I was told I had 60 days to find somewhere to go.
The stigma of social assistance
I live on social assistance. I don't like talking about that, because there's a stigma. But my health doesn't allow me to work.
When I was 19, I was diagnosed with pemphigus vulgaris, an autoimmune disorder that causes blistering in my mouth. I've been on prednisone for 25 years. Do you know what prednisone does to the body? It's a terrible drug, but I need it to help control my disease. I know I don't look sick, but I am — with too many health issues to list.
I'm scared. I'm scared I'm going to end up in a place I'm not going to like, or be forced into a bad situation. - Joy Auld
Social assistance gives me $1,250 a month, but I can spend a maximum of $794 on rent, heat and lights.
And it's not just finding a new place. It's the cost of moving — the supplies, the movers, first month's rent, damage deposit and getting the lights turned on. I can't afford that. Plus the packing, in my condition. It's mind-boggling.
So where does that leave me?
I'm scared. I'm scared I'm going to end up in a place I'm not going to like, or be forced into a bad situation. It's desperation.
I'm a great tenant. I've got great references. I'm too sick to move any more.
I just want to find a home that I can live in for the rest of my life. That's all I want. I'd love to have a little yard. I just want to feel like I have a home, not just a place to live.
Wherever I land next, I want to be there until I die.
Zoe died in 2018. It took two years before I could open my heart to another pet, but eventually I adopted this little guy named Charlie.
Finding housing with pets is hard, but I'm not getting rid of him. He saved my life. My doctor even wrote me a note saying Charlie is my emotional support animal.
I'll be honest, the last year wasn't too good. And that is one of the biggest reasons I got him. Because I knew if I didn't, I might not be here today. So I can't give him up.
Nobody should have to give up their pets to find a home. I'll live in my car first.
Chelsea Perry is a student journalist at Holland College.