Before the holidays the P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing (PEIFAH) received another call from a tenant being renovicted. The tenant asked for anonymity, due to fear of not being able to find an apartment if landlords identify them as someone who speaks up. Since most tenants had already moved out of the building without disputing the eviction notices, the alleged renovations had already taken place in many of the apartments — simple appliance replacement and repairs that likely didn’t need the tenants to move out in the first place. The landlord had told the tenant that they wouldn’t be able to afford the new rent after the renovations — an admission of an intended illegal increase that would be above the guideline and not reviewed by the director of residential rental property.
When tenants organized the first community meeting which would result in the formation of the PEIFAH two years ago, the poster slogan was “Reclaiming our Communities. Tell your Story. Join the Movement”. The slogan would be the same today. Little has changed. P.E.I. is losing affordable housing units to renovictions and spurious evictions as fast as new units are being created. People living on small and moderate incomes are being eased out of our communities.
At the first community meetings held in 2018 and early 2019 there were repeated calls among tenants for non-profit and public housing with geared-to-income rents.
Canada (and P.E.I. with it) ranks at the bottom of the heap of developed countries for the percentage of housing which is publicly owned. On P.E.I., where families and households of all sizes and compositions face housing challenges, only seniors and families with children have historically been seriously considered for subsidized public housing leaving the majority of Island tenants dependent on the market. There are good landlords, of course. But overall, the rental housing market, driven by the need to seek a return on investment rather than the need of tenants to have a stable home, has caused much turmoil in people’s lives. We don’t rely on the market for healthcare and education, for precisely those reasons… so why would we do so when it comes to housing?
It would have helped if the federal government had designed a housing strategy which provided funding for new geared-to-income non-profit housing. Instead, the National Housing Strategy focussed on a basketful of goodies for private developers. Sure, there was funding for shelters and transitional housing. But these vital services do not provide affordable housing. They provide life-saving temporary shelter around the edges of the housing crisis.
Our premier has also opted to provide grants and loans to developers for rental housing. But it looks as if true affordability is only occurring by virtue of supplements to tenants provided by the government. These arrangements may be helpful for some in the immediate future, but they will end anytime within 12– 20 years. At that time the landlords will have free rein over these valuable properties that were subsidized by public money. This is not a just solution that will benefit the community in the long term.
The PEIFAH is calling for:
- Geared-to-income non-profit and public housing as the predominant strategy to address the housing crisis; these projects must be in the heart of our communities and have operating agreements of at least 60 years.
- An end to renovictions through amendments to the new Residential Tenancy Act.
- Restrictions on rent increases permitted through the Residential Tenancy Act for renovations.
- A public rent registry to help enforce legal rents.
- “Owner-occupied” regulation of short-term rentals.
- Maintenance standards enforced, with community oversight, through provincial inspectors independent of IRAC.
- Relocation plans and compensation for tenants who are temporarily relocated due to renovations or evicted due to demolition. Each plan created by the landlord would be approved by an Office of the Housing Planner, which would also oversee its implementation.
We will continue to advocate for an affordable housing strategy with long-term vision which combines public investment in non-profit housing with changes and innovations in the law to protect tenants’ homes.
2021 will be a busy year for tenants on P.E.I.
Aimee Power and Michelle Mahoney are members of the P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing.