Charlottetown mayor says many forced into unacceptable living conditions

Jim Day
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Summit held to address affordable housing challenge

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.’’

Organizations: Affordable Housing Summit, Holman Grand Hotel

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Charlottetown.The, Summerside

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Recent comments

  • Mac
    December 26, 2013 - 09:41

    The root of the problem is rent control. There is no government price control on grocery items or clothing, both necessities for everyone. The competitive market keeps prices under control. Why should landlords be required to subsidize rent amounts to cure a social problem. Wages are too low and jobs are scarce. Grocery and clothing stores don't have to drop prices to make things affordable to lower income families. If rents weren't controlled by government, landlords could make a reasonable return on investment and the market would force them to upgrade or they would not be able to rent a sub-standard unit.

  • w kennedy
    December 15, 2013 - 02:40

    Since private renters charge as much as they can get away with I really think to avoid suffering of poor state housing as in the Soviet Union is the only way. As it is the middle class encourages immigration to keep rents high and wages low. At least maybe mitigate it by having as much as possible state. Since they allow conditions like toxic mold that a farmer would not let animals suffer perhaps they should accept confiscations or fines in scale with monthly returns $10,000 perhaps. A fine source of revenue this could be too.

  • Poor singles
    December 10, 2013 - 19:58

    Many single not just family are hit hard too . Social service limit cannot be much for them a room in kijiji wants 575 I don't think they allow that amount for a single person to live .. I don't think the mayor or any one in this town .really cares and he's on here giving a green light to another condo .

  • low income housing abuse
    December 10, 2013 - 19:23

    Guardian reporters should investigate why the province gives money to private builders to build low income housing then do nothing when landlord fills the units with family and friends that are able to work and afford regular rent while those on the list suffer. It's wrong!! Lazy bums playing the system provided by gov't!

  • Blah Blah
    December 10, 2013 - 15:57

    Simple solution. Put a freeze on ALL new developments until ALL the units in need of repair meet the inspector's standards. Hit them in the pocket book - where it hurts most.

  • Elle Joraco
    December 10, 2013 - 13:26

    yet we just spent over a billion dollars renovating province house, and how many millions on festivities for next year? I understand how the 2014 will hopefully boost the economy, but some of the money could have been spent on helping PEI citizens instead of making things fun and pretty for tourists.

  • I would take to next level
    December 10, 2013 - 13:16

    I have lived in slum apts. with roadents, mould etc. Social Assistance doesn't care if a person is trying to get living accommodations, they tell you that you have to stay below your rent ceiling.. I would love to correspond with people that live in these conditions, without giving their name. People need privacy so they don't get kicked out of their building until they find suitable housing.

  • Charlottetown Resident
    December 10, 2013 - 10:53

    Living in one of those "less than ideal" houses myself, yet the pricing is still high considering the condition. No PROPER repairs have been made by the landlord in the 2.5 years I've lived in the house. Issues arised that required us to tear down the ceiling which revealed that when my landlord had to renovate the kitchen the electrical wiring was all run DIRECTLY under the water lines. When a wall of my foundation caved, the landlord patched it up with plywood. Although it is cheaper than other places, the mold in the walls and attic ceiling are really getting to us from the leaking roof which runs down the plaster every time the roof gets wet. We do live in a group - two families combined into the house so that we are able to afford our housing and, provide for the children. We have been shopping around for a long time for a new place, but are somewhat "stuck" because everywhere else is much more expensive and even with four adults splitting costs it is much too expensive. The sad fact of reality is - IRAQ doesn't care; plus most of us are fearful to call IRAQ just incase we then end up with no place to live and a cranky landlord. The rich get richer.... and the families doing everything to try to support themselves struggle harder daily.

  • Quiet Observer
    December 10, 2013 - 10:25

    The article states that 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 place must meet the national standard of affordability of 30 percent or less of household income going toward rent. 30 percent? For most people it is over 50%. For those on social assistance it is over 60%! The wage gap between the haves and the have nots on PEI is ever widening. In a very few short years, there is going to be a revolt on PEI because the have nots are not going to be able to survive any more on the crumbs they are fed.

  • I understand
    December 10, 2013 - 09:28

    So all those empty apts & more to be built - ah - get rid of the old accommodations to try & fill the pockets of the owners of the empty bldgs.

  • Solution
    December 10, 2013 - 09:01

    People need to make a wage that is reflective of the real cost of living. Landlords need to charge a rent that is reasonable, balancing compassion and understanding with the realistic goal of being able to maintain an investment and some day pay it off. It is very simplistic to think that more inspections are the solution. First and foremost you need to address the wage gap. A couple of people making minimum wage can barely afford rent. Small scale landlords are forced to charge lower rents because quite simply, the pool of people looking to rent can’t afford high rent. The effect of that, landlords are barely able to pay the costs on the property, let alone do major repairs. If the province doesn’t want to address the wage gap then a program should be started that will allow landlords to charge below market rent, and the province can kick in the extra $100-$300 a month to reflect the real cost of owning a property, and they can do the inspections as often as they want to make sure the landlords are following through on their end of the deal.

  • Paula
    December 10, 2013 - 08:53

    Regulations are needed setting minimum standards that landlords must meet. I moved into a place in Brighton that was to be cleaned and fixed. The carpets were not cleaned, the paint was peeling from the walls (although they were to be painted), there was water in the basement, ripped screens, and feces and urine in the toilet that the worker had left behind. I had to pay to clean everything. Went to IRAC and applied for my expenses back. Over 2 months later and no hearing even though I am out over $500. Landlords can do and charge as they want. There should be an inspection prior to being able to rent a property. You must be licensed so that you have standards to meet. Plus there should be levels for rent based on grade of building.

  • Still Screwed
    December 10, 2013 - 08:50

    This is an issue that has been many years in the making, and needed to be addressed many years ago. I applaud the mayor's enthusiasm for 'fixing' this situation, but he's forgetting that if the buildings are finally fixed, and the landlords penalized, it's still the tenant that will lose out, simply because the landlord will raise the rent to reflect the better living conditions. It's not much of a win-win situation from the point of view of the tenant. We basically need better low-income housing options so everyone has a safe, warm home to live in.

  • Islander
    December 10, 2013 - 08:30

    This isn't just a problem for Charlottetown...what about the rest of the island??? This island is near poverty and gov doesn't care...they are still collecting a paycheck and have a big beautiful home to sleep in everynight

  • Priorites!
    December 10, 2013 - 08:24

    All of this but yet another condo project has been giving the go-ahead! Why not affordable housing?! Subsidized apartments?!

  • John MacDonald
    December 10, 2013 - 05:48

    We need a champion for the cause to shepherd this through. Sometimes in the pursuit of wealth, an enlightened individual realizes helping others offers greater satisfaction. May Ch'twn find a champion for this cause. Saints are always in short supply. Hopefully ppl will be as kind and compassionate towards one another in the meantime.

  • don
    December 09, 2013 - 23:27

    i think the mayors should read the landlord tenants act of dec-2009 was the last posted update from the government and it is all in the favor of the land lord and in some cases known as scum lords. but will the government step in ? NO why landlords pays more tax's.

  • Rick
    December 09, 2013 - 23:09

    Good its about time something was done to force these landlords to repair the buildings that they rent in substandard condition . I used to have an apartment on brighton rd in Charlottetown that was damaged during hurricane juan and it was patched up but was never properly repaired and the attic and walls got wet and mold was painted over but never actually cleaned up .I had breathing problems untill I left that mold filled building .

  • Joe Blow
    December 09, 2013 - 23:07

    It's about time someone spoke up about the outrageous rental fees and poor living conditions by some landlords in Charlottetown. We pay the highest taxes in Canada, we have the lowest income tax exemption in Canada, pay some of the highest electric rates and heating costs in Canada but yet it still costs $700 a month to rent a 2 bedroom dump. Its time the government stood up and done something about this. Islanders deserve more money in their pockets and we need to stop paying the outrages prices for living costs. Our government is a joke...Sheridan is more concerned about sucking us taxpayers dry to balance his precious budget...which he will never balance anyways because he is incompetent. I think its time Islanders smartened up and get rid of the Ghiz "Lie"-berals and vote in a responsible government that won't spend like there is no end to the money. We are PEI...a small province with a little economy...its time we started living within our means as far as government goes. No fat salaries, no raises, no careless spending, no more government cars for MLA's, no more expense accounts. Come on people....WAKE UP....at the rate Ghiz and Sheridan are spending, we will NEVER see the end of this provincial debt. Time to stop the bleeding.

    • don
      December 09, 2013 - 23:34

      islkanders had a chance to vote in a honest real and true islander not imports from NB etc. but no you wanted wes and ghiz so suffer. and the act is wrote in favor of the landlord so really what protection does the tenant have? NOTHING.

  • Ha ha
    December 09, 2013 - 22:59

    Then I assume that some of the rentals that are presently vacant and unsightly on lower university ave would they be included in the clean up ? I doubt it ,

  • I didn't inhale
    December 09, 2013 - 22:53

    Sounds like the living conditions in Dalton Hall at UPEI back in 1972 when I was a student there.

  • Won't happen
    December 09, 2013 - 22:26

    This won't happen and if it does it because all the fancy condos . What the mayor may like is in with the rich and out with the island poor . That way when islanders can't afford to live here even in run down place of 600.00 a month for a single unit . Then families have to live in groups in a one bedroom . Look at Nova Scotia rent it much cheaper . You think that brining in the hst would have off set high price condos and apt . 200.300 less and all inclusive utilities . There are some here but high priced for average Ilander . Yes inspection great that would create more homeless . And landlords do not want low income people that why the prices are high . It seems like a genocide of Islands poor who have to leave the island to get a job even and a place to live . Then the rich off islanders move in waterfront condos . If the mayor should go see some of these places that are not fit himself do an inspection force landlord to fix then increase the rent . What is that going to do . Homeless increase .

  • Slick Ryan
    December 09, 2013 - 21:21

    Inspectors coming into peoples homes? Get real Cliff it would make more sense for the Guardian to print local news from Alberta. Should already be building codes in town that cover this and the fire marshal can shut them down right now. Sounds like some developer buddies maybe circling?

    • M
      December 09, 2013 - 21:36

      It sounds more like a political scam. Someone looking for some attention maybe!?!?!? This story is a joke. They wanna fix it, its not ok for ppl to be living like this, so they're gonna let it happen cuz theres no "quick fix"? Doesnt make since. If those homes that the Mayor is talking about are in that bad a shape, something would have been done on the spot. Sounds like the Mayor is just trying to make some friends.