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OPINION: Understanding IRAC’s role in housing

The sudden influx of international students is squeezing some local residents out of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality rental market.
- Contributed

J. Scott MacKenzie

Guest Opinion

The lack of affordable housing on Prince Edward Island has generated a lot of public debate with questions about solutions and responsibility. Some people put the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) in the spotlight, saying the housing shortage is our responsibility. We would like to clear up this misconception and give Islanders a better understanding of the role we play in housing.

Our role is clearly defined in legislation. We hear rental disputes and we set allowable rent increases. IRAC does not build housing. Nor do we direct or fund others to build housing. That is the role of governments and private developers.

We are not policy advisors to government. But we do meet regularly with government to discuss what we see happening in the market. For example, we have expressed our concerns about the increasing number of residential units converted to Airbnbs, the shrinking supply of affordable housing and the hardships this is creating for people.

Every day our rental officers deal with people who have received an eviction notice and are scared of losing their home or landlords facing expensive repairs because of damage to their rental unit. We deal with people in emotionally-charged situations accusing and blaming one another. Our job is to help these people resolve their differences.

Like a small claims court, the rental office holds hearings and issues decisions. People dissatisfied with the decisions can appeal to IRAC which holds a public hearing on the matter.

We are also responsible for setting allowable rent increases for the coming year. We carry out a comprehensive financial analysis to support our decision making. We use statistical data compiled by the department of finance and the Consumer Price Index. We consider minimum wage, average rents, the cost of electricity, heat, water, insurance, property taxes and other costs that affect the price of housing. We also look at allowable increases in other rent-controlled provinces. This report can be found at http://bit.ly/2019AllowableRentIncrease.

We seek public input on rent increases. We advertise in newspapers Island wide. We issue a press release and post a notice on our website inviting public comments. Last year, we considered submissions from tenants, landlords, and the general public. Public education is also part of our work. Last year, we ran a media campaign and held six information sessions across the province to help tenants and landlords understand their roles and responsibilities.

IRAC was created as an independent administrative tribunal with authority to make decisions on a variety of issues. We operate at arm’s length from government, free of influence from politicians and government. Upholding the commission’s independence is fundamental to ensuring public confidence in our objectivity, expertise, and impartiality in decision making.

The lack of affordable housing is a serious problem on Prince Edward Island. IRAC does not have the mandate or the authority to deal with the housing shortage. Our role is to hear rental disputes and set allowable rent increases. Our commitment to Islanders is to provide unbiased and well-reasoned decisions in all matters brought before us.

J. Scott MacKenzie is chair and CEO of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.

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