Summit held to address affordable housing challenge
© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Bill Fleming, provincial housing co-ordinator, attended the Affordable Housing Summit in Charlottetown Monday along with several mayors from across the province, people working in the housing sector, developers and landlords.
Many people, laments Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, are living in homes in his city that are in horrible condition.
There are places, says the mayor, where ceilings have fallen down over the years due to water leaks.
Other housing units have electrical wiring hanging from ceilings. Blankets cover smashed windows to keep the cold out of some residences in the capital city.
One apartment Lee is aware of is getting water supply from an outside tap through a garden hose.
In some cases, residents are sharing their Charlottetown apartment with rodents. Pigeons have found a home in the attic of one dwelling in another disturbing scenario.
“I know there are different units I’ve been in in the City of Charlottetown where you just look and you go ‘wow, people actually live here,’’’ he told The Guardian Monday while attending a one-day Affordable Housing Summit at the Holman Grand Hotel in Charlottetown.
The mayor says the situation is unacceptable and action is needed.
Lee would like homes to be inspected more regularly and with greater ease to crack down on the number of units in his city that are in unacceptable living condition.
“If we invest in the human resources to enforce the rules and regulations that we have, we’ll eliminate these undesirable apartments,’’ he says.
“One of two things is going to happen: the inspectors are going to force the landlords to update the units and fix them or the inspectors are going to condemn the building and that’s going to force the people out of those buildings.’’
Lee says if tenants are forced out of substandard housing, pressure is then placed on the province to respond.
“It may force the hand of our provincial social services department in increasing the allowable limits for shelter expenses,’’ says Lee.
However, provincial housing co-ordinator Bill Fleming says the problem is complex with no apparent quick fix in the offing.
“Unless we have some alternative for them to live in it becomes more complex than simply just going in and requiring someone to maintain housing at a specific standard,’’ he says.
“In terms of getting landlords to react, again it is complex. The landlord (of a substandard unit or units) generally is charging a lower rate than what marketplace would generally require for good, acceptable standard of rental (units).’’
Fleming believes the thinking exists among some landlords that tenants are simply getting what they are paying for, even if that is a run-down apartment with inadequate heat, insufficient plumbing or any other number of unacceptable conditions.
He estimates hundreds of homes in Charlottetown are in unacceptable living condition, but he does not have any concrete numbers.
He does know many people are looking for affordable housing.
The waiting list for affordable family housing in Charlottetown is around 300. For senior housing, it is more than 350.
“And that’s increasing so it certainly is a reflection I think of the fact that more people are having a problem paying their shelter costs,’’ he says.
Fleming says finding affordable housing is a challenge across the province — a reality reflected perhaps in the fact that several mayors attended the summit - but is a greater challenge in Charlottetown and Summerside due to migration putting greater pressure on those two cities.
Summit convener Brian Howatt of Results Marketing & Advertising says for housing to be deemed affordable, three criteria must be met: a place requires basic necessities like reasonable wiring, heat and hot running water; a unit must be suitable for the number of people living in the dwelling; and the palce must meet the national standard of affordability of 30 percent or less of household income going toward rent.
Howatt says affordable housing for seniors was raised as a big issue at the summit.
“The demand is growing,’’ he says. “Well that means supply needs to grow and supply is expensive...so how to fund those sort of things?’’
Howatt says the purpose of the summit, which attracted in addition to mayors people working in the housing sector, some from social services a well as developers and landlords, is to develop potential workable ideas to improve the situation with affordable housing in Charlottetown and across the province.
“If we come out with one or two small things, we can take and kind of push the envelope further and say ‘we’ve got something tangible that has potential,’’’ he says.
“Somebody has to be in charge and take it to the next level.’’