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P.E.I. Greens question $9 million unspent on social housing

Green MLA Hannah Bell says it is disappointing to see that money allocated to social housing construction has remained unspent. She reiterated that P.E.I. is seeing a crisis of affordable housing.
Green MLA Hannah Bell says it is disappointing to see that money allocated to social housing construction has remained unspent. She reiterated that P.E.I. is seeing a crisis of affordable housing. - Stu Neatby/The Guardian

The Opposition Green party is blasting the government for not spending millions of dollars allocated a year ago for social housing projects.

Friday’s capital budget revealed a forecasted $9.4 million in unspent funds that were budgeted last fall for social housing construction and renovation.

Overall, the budget from last fall’s capital budget included $17 million budgeted for social housing construction and renovation. The budgeted amount for social housing construction and renovation in this year’s capital budget is $12.6 million – less than last year’s allocation, even though $9.4 million of last year’s allocation went unspent.

During question period in the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday, Bevan-Baker argued this amounted to cuts to social housing and contrasted it to the increased funding allocated for road paving on P.E.I.

"What did you have to say to the people who have nowhere to sleep tonight – the 750 people who are currently on the government's housing wait list?" Bevan-Baker asked the Premier Dennis King.

"I believe that we've been making record investments in these areas,” King said in response.

King referred to a five-year allocation of $36 million for construction of social housing units. This amount is $12.7 million more than had been allocated, over two years, in last fall’s capital budget.

"When you look at housing, for example, Mr. Speaker, the incredible rate at which construction is taking place, that there's an underspend in that area, it's simply the province right now does not have an ability to do any more," King said.

In interview, Green MLA Hannah Bell said social housing allocations for previous years also went unspent.

"We have heard consistently from government that delays are a result of the (process of review). And then it was because of COVID," Bell said.

"In the meantime, the private sector has had no problem completing projects across the province. So, we are left thinking that perhaps they underspend as a result of it being not a priority."

Bell said she often receives calls from constituents who are having difficulty finding affordable rental accommodations.

"I can't tell you how difficult it is to get calls where people say, 'I honestly don't know what I'm going to do at the end of the month’," Bell said.

For several years, communities in P.E.I. have dealt with a chronic shortage of affordable rental housing. P.E.I. currently has a vacancy rate of 1.2 per cent.

The provincial government has undertaken a significant investment in affordable housing construction since July 2018. A statement from the province said 447 total affordable units are either under construction or have been completed. A total of 174 of these are government-owned housing. The remaining units are partnerships with developers.

So far, 117 units of the total 447 have opened, rented at a rate of 25 per cent of an individual’s income.

Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson said the province announced 100 units of affordable housing in the fall of 2019 – 10 units in Morell, 10 in Georgetown, 32 in Summerside and 48 in Charlottetown.

Social Housing Minister Ernie Hudson argued that the PC government has substantially increased spending in social housing. A total of $36 million has been allocated for social housing builds over the coming years. - Stu Neatby/The Guardian
Social Housing Minister Ernie Hudson argued that the PC government has substantially increased spending in social housing. A total of $36 million has been allocated for social housing builds over the coming years. - Stu Neatby/The Guardian

But Hudson acknowledged that the projects have not yet been put out to tender for design work.

"Without a doubt, they will be completed. It does take time," Hudson said.

Like the premier, Hudson pointed to the increase in planned spending over the coming five years. He also said the number of people on the waitlist for social housing in the province has been reduced from 1,036 to 750 over the last year.

Stu Neatby is the political reporter for The Guardian. [email protected]@stu_neatby

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