The Green Opposition took several swings at the Progressive Conservative government's record on addressing P.E.I.’s crisis of affordable housing during Thursday’s question period.
The questions focused on a variety of issues, including government co-ordination on housing, tenancy rights, rising housing and rent prices and the capacity of emergency shelters in Summerside and Charlottetown.
As of January, P.E.I. had the lowest provincial vacancy rate in the country at 1.2 per cent.
Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker began by referring to the Housing Action Plan, a document released shortly before the 2019 election by the Liberal government of Wade MacLauchlan.
Shortly after the plan was announced, the Liberal government announced that former Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee would be hired as the special adviser, tasked with co-ordinating the multi-departmental housing plan.
In October of 2019, the province announced Lee had been shuffled out of the role.
“He’s now selling real estate; finally doing something in housing,” Bevan-Baker said of Lee.
Bevan-Baker said the province has not hired anyone since then to co-ordinate the response to the housing shortage.
“If you don’t have any executive with the responsibility after over 18 months in government, when will you finally admit that you don’t really have any plan to address the housing crisis?” Bevan-Baker asked Premier Dennis King.
In response, King confirmed Lee had been fired from his role.
“For 18 months, they complained about having a special housing advisor there and they weren’t happy until he was fired, and now they’re wondering why we don’t have one,” King said.
King said his government had made “record investments” in new rental housing construction.
“We’re 15 years behind and we’re trying to play catch up,” King said.
Housing Minister Ernie Hudson laid much of the blame for the housing crisis on the previous Liberal government.
“I have to say we inherited a bit of a mess with regard to housing,” Hudson said.
“What we have done is we have added 15 million in the operating budget and the capital budget to housing.”
Shelter capacity stretched: Greens
In an interview, Green MLA Hannah Bell said there are accessibility gaps within P.E.I.’s shelter system.
In Charlottetown, there is a men’s shelter at Bedford-MacDonald House, operated by the Salvation Army. This shelter had a nightly capacity of 12 and was often reported to be full prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blooming House, an eight-bed women’s shelter, also operates in Charlottetown. The province also funds a community outreach centre at Smith Lodge, which operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Bell said she has heard that the demand for emergency shelter is outstripping the available spaces. She said she has heard from housing navigators that there are sometimes more than 100 homeless people in Charlottetown. Shelters are turning people away due to lack of beds.
"We have nowhere to go if you have a family. We have nowhere to go if you're gay," Bell said, adding that there are specific needs for LGBTQ+ individuals that are not being met. "We've got some real gaps."
In an interview, Hudson said Smith Lodge could be able to provide additional shelter capacity as well.
"I think one of the great initiatives that we have undertaken was the acquisition of Smith Lodge here approximately a year ago. That is enabling us to have additional units, additional beds, additional transition units available as we move into the winter months," Hudson said.
Hudson said a needs assessment is also in the works for an emergency shelter in Summerside.
When asked about shelters for individuals with children, Hudson mentioned Chief Mary Bernard House and Anderson House, which provide services for women who are dealing with domestic abuse. He also suggested other options may exist.
"In the event that there are mothers that have children with them that do not have, for whatever reason, a roof over their head, the department will accommodate that, whether it's in hotel, motels and the like."
Stu Neatby is The Guardian's political reporter.
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