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Housing starts in P.E.I. less than half of what's needed to meet population growth

The number of apartments being built in P.E.I. is rising, but is still below 2019 and 2020 levels. (Brian McInnis/CBC - image credit)
The number of apartments being built in P.E.I. is rising, but is still below 2019 and 2020 levels. (Brian McInnis/CBC - image credit)

The final number of housing starts for last year is in, and P.E.I. fell well short of what the province needs to meet its population growth.

Data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation released this week shows construction started on 1,139 housing units in 2023. The most recent population numbers show Prince Edward Island added about 6,700 residents over the previous 12 months.

With an average of 2.3 people per household on the Island, that puts the requirement for homes for those new residents at 2,900.

"That shortfall between supply and demand is right across the country," said Housing Minister Rob Lantz. "It's been a challenge to fill that gap. It's no different here."

The minister also noted that some new projects were slow in getting started in 2023 because contractors were still busy doing repairs from Fiona, the post-tropical storm that swept over the Maritimes in September 2022.

All levels of government will need to work together to get the necessary housing built, says P.E.I. Housing Minister Rob Lantz. (Tony David/CBC)

One housing researcher estimates that P.E.I. is currently short 5,000 homes, and would need to build 2,600 a year for 10 years in order to catch up.

The province has never come close to building 2,600 homes in a year. The record is 2,122 in 1973.

Housing starts leaped in 2019, passing 1,500, in response to the province's housing crisis but have not reached that level since.

Last year's number was the lowest since 2018.

Lantz took some hope from the 2023 data, noting that there has been a shift toward building apartment buildings over the last three years.

"I think that that's reflective of some of the incentives that we're putting in place for multi-unit, purpose-built rental," he said.

"It's going to be a years-long effort and it's going to take collaboration with all levels of government."

The number of apartment starts in 2023 is still well below 2019's number, with 453 units started versus 736.

Limiting delays

Progress on housing starts can be slowed by objections from the public during the approvals process, and the province is taking action on that front.

This apartment building on Fitzroy Street in Charlottetown will be 28-units and completed by Fall 2022. It was built with $2 million received by the Canadian Mental Health Association of P.E.I.
This apartment building on Fitzroy Street in Charlottetown will be 28-units and completed by Fall 2022. It was built with $2 million received by the Canadian Mental Health Association of P.E.I.

Lantz says there has been a shift toward building apartment units over the last three years. One example is this 28-unit apartment building on Fitzroy Street in Charlottetown. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The government recently changed its Planning Act to remove the ability for just anyone to appeal a housing development's approval. Appeals now have to be made by an aggrieved person — someone who is directly affected by a project.

An appeal to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission can delay a project for months, and Lantz said he wants to limit that.

"To the people who make these appeals, they're not frivolous. People feel like they're impacted," he said.

"We've got to take measures to keep things moving forward. We've made some efforts in that regard and I'm willing to take further measures with regard to how the appeal process works in front of IRAC to improve that process if necessary."

The province was due to release a housing strategy in the fall of 2023, but that has not yet happened.