No apartments to rent? Let them eat cake.
One of my favorite apocryphal anecdotes from history is Marie Antoinette’s famous remark, “Let them eat cake.” The doomed French queen had just been told that the people of France were starving and could not afford bread.
“Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette said, except she totally didn’t.
But Charlottetown mayor Clifford Lee responded recently to the housing crisis in about the same tone and manner. During a CBC on-radio panel discussion, Lee said: “I don’t know who ever said, ‘If you’re on social assistance or if you’re living in affordable homes, you have to rent.’ What’s wrong with home ownership for some of these people?” (CBC article)
This type of comment is incredibly frustrating to hear from anyone, let alone a mayor of a city currently suffering from a housing crisis. But it’s especially infuriating because Lee, who is about to end his tenure as the mayor of Charlottetown this year, just accepted a position as Housing Advisor with the provincial government of Prince Edward Island. This type of advisor position is sorely needed for this very serious issue.
However—and this is just an idea—someone who knows something about what it’s like to look for a home as a low-income senior or a person making minimum wage or living on social assistance would be much, much better suited for the position.
People who are oblivious to the real-life struggles of being a low-income individual, the type who would be so flabberghasted about why renters don’t just all buy homes, should not have such an important role in our provincial government. The government would be foolish to retain Lee’s employment in this role. If they can’t replace him, they should be embarrassed at their mistake.
Perhaps the mayor ought to take a walk over to the Walmart parking lot where a woman has been living in her car all summer because she couldn’t find a place to live on her income. Maybe he should go ahead and ask her why she doesn’t just buy herself a house.
The Province, meanwhile, is enthusiastically advertising their feel-good stories about Islanders who came back to PEI after leaving and now have successful businesses and happy lives, here in Canada’s smallest province. I’d love to see the province’s population continue to grow, but not if we don’t have anywhere to put them.
EDIT: In response to the panel discussion:
- Hannah Bell’s Twitter response (thread)
- P.E.I. mortgage aid could tighten housing market, says economist
A little background on the PEI/Charlottetown housing crisis:
- Charlottetown and other areas of Prince Edward Island are currently struggling with a severe housing crisis; rental availability is under the 1% mark, mostly due to the number of Air BNB rental units now available across the province
- Houses have also recently increased in price substantially in the past one to two years
- Rental availability due to Air BNB rentals has cause housing issues in many other cities
- The City of Charlottetown seems extremely reluctant to regulate Air BNB rentals because these types of rentals bring tourists in the summer and tourism is very important to the province’s economy
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a hoarder of podcasts and a history enthusiast. Learn more.