P.E.I. vacancy rate improved, but still lowest in country

P.E.I. has the lowest vacancy rate of all Canadian provinces, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's 2019 rental market survey, released Wednesday.

The vacancy rate across the Island was 1.2 per cent in October 2019. That's an improvement from 0.3 per cent at the same time last year. 

Charlottetown's vacancy rate was also 1.2 per cent, up from 0.2 per cent reported in October of 2018. Vancouver has a comparable vacancy rate of 1.1 per cent.

The national vacancy rate sits at 1.5 per cent, and has declined over the past three years consecutively, the report said.

David Donnelly/CBC

The growth in P.E.I.'s rate "shows that we're moving in the right direction," said the province's Minister of Social Development and Housing Ernie Hudson.

While he did say there's "more work to be done," Hudson said government initiatives such as expanding access to rent subsidies, offering mobile rental vouchers, together with incentives for the construction of 366 new housing units announced since July 2018 "will continue to have a positive impact."

"We don't want to see any Islander that's homeless, that doesn't have a roof over their head, that is in a situation where they're struggling to find accommodations," said Hudson.

Opposition MLA Hannah Bell, who is also the social development critic, said although 1.2 per cent is better than 0.3 per cent, a lot of people who are "in that housing market" aren't actually seeing any difference in terms of what is happening "on the ground."

'Not coming from government'

"The bulk of the efforts that are happening in terms of putting new capacity in the rental market are happening in the private sector, they are not coming from government," she said.

"Almost all that building is happening at the high end of market rental. So the pressures we have are across the entire housing continuum. And the biggest pressure is on affordable housing — nobody is building affordable housing."

She said government has made a significant investment in rental supplements, which are "incredibly important for people to be able to afford where they're living."

But she said that is a short-term fix and the investment should be going to building new housing.

Government could make affordable housing easier to create by making land available, changing policy or being more flexible with zoning and regulations, Bell said.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"Putting more pressure on the federal government to accelerate the release of funds from the National Housing Strategy — that is taking a really long time to get some of that money out," she said.

"That is the kind of thing we need that helps some of these projects get off the ground."

Bell said she would like to see a clear commitment from municipal, provincial and federal governments that affordable housing is a priority.

"We know that there is a pretty clear standard that you shouldn't be paying more than 25 per cent of your after-tax income on your housing," she said.

"But if you ask most most Islanders they are paying a lot more than that. For some Islanders they are paying more than they can afford every single month."

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