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Rental housing in Stratford not keeping up with influx of newcomers, say residents

Vilma Rodriguez is concerned about the high cost of rental housing for her children, as well as the lack of job opportunities for young people.
Vilma Rodriguez is concerned about the high cost of rental housing for her children, as well as the lack of job opportunities for young people. - Stu Neatby

Decision '19.
Decision '19.

STRATFORD, P.E.I. - Martin Herink and Nicola Herinkova both say the shortage of affordable housing in Charlottetown and Stratford is on their minds this election season.

Reached at their home in Horton Park, the couple said they are happy with the three-bedroom apartment they currently share with their children. They currently pay $1,060 per month. But they know, for other families, finding similarly-priced apartments is almost impossible; the going rent for three-bedroom apartments is as high as $1,500 per month.

"I hear from people at work and all over the place that it's just so hard to find reasonable housing," Herink said.

Nicola Herinkova teaches English to newcomers through Holland College’s Linc program. She said she hears regularly about the struggles of recent newcomers who are attempting to find housing.

“Vacancy here is non-existent,” Herinkova said. "Immigration is really putting a lot of pressure, I would say, on housing. From everything I understand, the wait lists are really an issue for a lot of people."

The couple, who has lived in the area for eight years, believes their block has become one of the most diverse areas in P.E.I. Families from the Middle East, Asia, Europe and other parts of Canada are now their neighbours.

Like the couple’s neighbourhood, their electoral district of Mermaid-Stratford has changed dramatically in the last four years.

After its electoral boundaries were changed to include more of Stratford and fewer unincorporated areas, Mermaid-Stratford’s borders are dramatically different from 2015. The riding is less rural and more urban. Like Stratford-Keppoch across the highway, the area is seeing a population boom; between 2011 and 2016, Stratford’s population grew by 13 per cent.


How the parties plan to address affordable housing

Liberals:

  • Increase number of rent supplements from current 707 to 1,400
  • Introduce a tax credit of up to $300 per year for individuals with rents below $1,500
  • Reduce property taxes by 10 per cent on first $200,000 of value of homes
  • Invest $30 million in new housing supply over four years
  • Invest $750,000 more in home renovations for seniors per year

PCs:

  • Introduce a “mobile rental voucher” for housing insecure renters
  • Increase funding ceilings for P.E.I. Home Renovation and Seniors Home Repair programs
  • Work with private sector, non-profits, other levels of government to build affordable housing units
  • Allow seniors to receive tax credit of up to 50 per cent of property tax bills

Greens:

  • Increase the social assistance housing subsidy rate
  • Mandate pet-friendly policies for public seniors’ housing
  • Regulate short-term rentals, such as Airbnb
  • Review Rental of Residential Property Act
  • Dedicate $5.5 million in 2019/2020 to “supporting housing supply.”

NDP:

  • Implement a housing bank to properties to be used for public housing
  • Establish commercial, HST and room taxes for short-term rental properties
  • Reform Rental of Residential Property Act, establish “robust” inspection regime
  • Establish PNP investor affordable-housing bonds
  • Allow municipalities to implement ‘inclusionary zoning’ rules

In the 2015 election, the district was decided by a coin toss. A recount reduced Liberal candidate Alan McIsaac’s two-vote lead to a tie with Progressive Conservative candidate Mary Ellen McInnis. McIsaac won the coin toss; he credits his surname, which was listed below that of McInnis alphabetically, for earning him the winning tails side.

"Kinda weird, but that was the rules of the game," McIsaac told The Guardian.

This time around, McIsaac is not reoffering. The Liberals have instead fielded former Stratford councillor Randy Cooper as their candidate. McInnis is running once more for the PCs, her third time campaigning in District 5. The Green party, represented by Michele Beaton, has been turning heads, while NDP candidate Lawrence Millar is also in the mix.

"Who knows how it's going to go this time?” McIsaac said.

Reached at the No Frills grocery store, Mermaid resident Vilma Rodriguez said she was undecided about who she’ll be voting for this election but said she is concerned P.E.I. is fast becoming a place that cannot retain its young people.

She says the lack of affordable rental spaces in the area has not helped.

"There are issues, I guess, with the fact that they find it hard to find a place to live," Rodriguez said. "If I'm thinking of my children, that would be something they always have to come up with."

Rodriguez has seen two of her adult children move off-Island; one to Miramichi, N.B., and another to Yarmouth, N.S. Her daughter, who studied criminology in university, has returned to the Island from B.C., but is now working two jobs – one with a local non-profit and another as a security guard at the Hillsborough Hospital.

“You don't hear much of youth moving here at all," Rodriguez said. “The opportunities are very sparse.”

Kun Liu is one person who is attempting to create an opportunity for himself. In February, the 23-year old UPEI graduate took over the Bamboo Garden Restaurant in the Bunbury mall. The restaurant serves traditional Chinese food.

Kun Liu, the owner of Bamboo Garden Restaurant, says he is largely happy with the level of government support for both newcomers and business owners. But he feels rental housing is scarce.
Kun Liu, the owner of Bamboo Garden Restaurant, says he is largely happy with the level of government support for both newcomers and business owners. But he feels rental housing is scarce.

Liu, who is not yet a citizen, cannot vote in this election. He said he has so far found the business climate in Stratford to be good.

But he also said he has had challenges with the region’s housing rental market.

“Every apartment is full, it's very difficult to find one," Liu said.

Liu said it took between three and four months for him to find an apartment after he decided to move out from his apartment in Browns Court in Charlottetown.

He credited the provincial government for establishing the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program. The program, which was adopted in P.E.I. by the MacLauchlan government, assists local companies in filling job vacancies and helps students and immigrants gain permanent residency.

"That is a great program for international students," Liu said.

Another resident of the riding, who asked that her name not be used, said she has been having difficulty filling a job vacancy for a supervisor at her workplace because of the housing situation. The woman said she manages a retail outlet.

“Usually we hire internally so they would transfer another manager from outside the province to here. There's nowhere for them to live, you know? They can't come and just find a rental because it's impossible right now," the woman said.


This is the next story in a series The Guardian is publishing on district profiles and election issues up until April 22.


RELATED: Planned high school could sway Mermaid-Stratford voters, but other candidates doubtful


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