For Eric Lapierre, the lack of affordable housing options in Charlottetown has hit home.
The 68-year-old retired taxi driver has been sharing a four-bedroom apartment with his son, Joseph, and his daughter-in-law, Heidi.
The rent – $1,300 a month – was steep for the three of them but has become untenable now that Joseph has moved out West for work. Heidi, who has remained in P.E.I. to care for her ailing mother, and Lapierre are now covering the rent themselves.
To make matters worse, Heidi is hoping to move out by the end of August. She has struggled to cover her share of the rent. If she leaves, Lapierre says he won’t be able to afford the rent on his own.
“I only get around $1,400 (per month), and the rent's $1,300 here. So, I'm going to be out by the end of next month with my ear on the sidewalk, with nothing and nowhere to go," Lapierre says.
Arlene MacDonald-Smith, Lapierre’s niece, has been helping her uncle get his name on a waiting list for a subsidized seniors unit. But he’s been told it could take up to 18 months.
“He's just got himself into a real panic. Like what's he going to do?" MacDonald-Smith said.
Lapierre is in the midst of P.E.I.’s affordable housing shortage, which is hitting seniors and renters the hardest. Charlottetown’s rental vacancy rate is less than one per cent, and rental prices have risen 13.7 per cent since 2014. As of April, there were close to 1,000 seniors and families on the province’s wait list for affordable housing.
On Monday, the province announced its long-awaited strategy to tackle the growing need for affordable housing. The Housing Action Plan has a target of creating 1,000 affordable housing units – defined as being 20 per cent below median market value – over the next four years. This includes 275 units to be completed by the end of 2018.
The plan will create 100 new private nursing home beds to address the wait times for seniors and a further 74 social housing units for seniors by spring of 2019.
It also includes a number of other initiatives, such as the creation of a $2-million down payment assistance program, which would help first-time home builders afford the cost of buying a house. The province will also hire a housing navigator and a tenant outreach worker to assist low-income Islanders in accessing government services. Ten units of social housing will be created for victims of family violence by spring 2019 and another 10 will be created for individuals with mental health needs by this fall.
Finance Minister Heath MacDonald said the plan was developed after six months of consultation with non-profits and developers.
He said the Island’s population has grown in recent years, in part due to increases in immigration and a growing enrolment from off-Island and international students at Holland College and UPEI. Older Islanders have also opted to move into urban areas.
The province’s housing plan, he said, represents a comprehensive approach. Some of the work has already begun with a request for proposals issued for the construction of 40 new subsidized seniors housing units in Charlottetown, as well as 32 in Summerside.
“If you look across the country, we’re likely doing as much or more right now than a lot of the other provinces,” MacDonald said.
But Opposition Leader James Aylward said the plan has little immediate action to address the current affordability crisis.
"It's filled with lots of promises of action but unfortunately those promises are pushed out into the future – into the spring, summer, into 2023," Aylward said. "It's taken them far too long to even get to this point."
Aylward said the MacLauchlan government has failed to preserve existing affordable rental stock. He said many rental properties in Charlottetown are being sold or even demolished to make way for newer, higher-rent properties.
Green Party MLA Hannah Bell said the changes announced in the plan were almost all previously announced by the federal government, and they do not reflect the urgent need for affordability facing the working poor.
“We have these incredible wait lists with social housing, but we also have a huge number of just regular working Islanders who are terrified they are going to be homeless by the end of the month," Bell said.
"I do really value having a plan like this, but we do not have time to spend another six or eight months exploring and evaluating and building internal frameworks."
Lapierre hopes that the new housing plan will provide some help. But when asked what he believes government should do, he pointed to the waiting list for seniors units.
“I know they need to speed it up an awful lot,” he said.
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