P.E.I. prepares for another winter with the lowest vacancy rate in Canada

As P.E.I. government officials touted the success of the province's housing action plan in front of a committee of MLAs, they also provided a few details on preparations to provide temporary housing again this winter to Islanders with nowhere else to live.

That served as a reminder of the depth of the housing crisis facing the province with the lowest vacancy rate in the country.

P.E.I.'s vacancy rate, as reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation last November, was 0.3 per cent.

"Before the weather turns much colder, we would have a variety of services," explained P.E.I.'s Director of Housing Services Sonya Cobb, speaking in front of the province's Standing Committee on Health and Social Development on Wednesday.

"It's a range of additional beds," Cobb continued.

"Warming centres so that during the day people have somewhere to go. ... It will include transportation to access services where perhaps we don't have a volume of homeless in a particular community."

Hotlines and shelters

Last December the province set up a temporary shelter referral hotline to take calls from those without a safe place to stay, and started paying for hotel rooms for those in urgent need of housing.

Sarah MacMillan/CBC
Sarah MacMillan/CBC

Since then an eight-bed women's shelter has opened in Charlottetown, and the province agreed to provide $355,500 per year in funding to Bedford MacDonald House — a men's shelter in the city.

One thing Cobb said the province is still trying to decide is how to provide housing for families in need.

"Blooming House is a women's shelter. Families can't go there. Bedford MacDonald is a men's shelter. Families can't go there," she said.

"Our go-to last year was the motel model for families. We recognize that that isn't ideal. We are working with our community partners in terms of what some of the other options could be in that area."

Report card

The province has reached out to communities since last winter to conduct a needs assessment and Cobb said recommendations based on that assessment will be released soon.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Cobb told the committee that 84 per cent of the "phase one" initiatives included in the province's housing action strategy have been completed or are in progress.

But when pressed for details on what's been achieved and what remains to be done, she deferred to a report card to be released later this fall.

Affecting rural communities

She did point to provincial support for 366 new housing units in development in communities from Souris to O'Leary, along with 550 new rent subsidies.

Committee member Jamie Fox, the province's minister of fisheries and communities, told the committee the housing crunch isn't just affecting the province's two cities but also rural communities and industries in rural areas.

"I'm actually hearing … that the vacancy rate of housing for workers is nil, it's zero," Fox said. "So families or workers will not travel to these areas to work, because there is no accommodations or availability whatsoever."

Liberals and Greens on the committee questioned how much the province's minority PC government has done to address the housing crisis since coming to power in the Apr. 23 provincial election.

'A crisis'

"This housing plan was the previous government's plan so it should be pretty easy to keep moving things forward," said the Green Party's housing critic Hannah Bell.

Kerry Campbell/CBC
Kerry Campbell/CBC

An announcement Tuesday of an additional $2.25 million in funding for affordable housing will help create 50 more units, she said.

"Any housing is great housing to see added in, but we need really big, bold things right now," Bell said.

"We are in a crisis. We need government to step up."

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