A tough time to find shelter

The Leader-Post October 13, 2011

New home construction in Regina is booming at a level not seen in 40 years, but it’s likely of little comfort to those at the bottom of the housing ladder.

Even if there is a “trickle-down effect” of some renters buying their own homes and freeing up apartments, many on minimum wage or social assistance simply can’t afford shelter in a city where average rents are around $750 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Still, any growth in housing stock that ultimately eases Regina’s rental vacancy rate of less than one per cent will help, particularly during the current period of population growth as migrants and immigrants move to the city. So it’s encouraging to see housing starts up by almost 25 per cent this year, to 1,140 in the first nine months compared with 921 for the same period last year.

Of this year’s total so far, 450 are multifamily units (semi-detached, row houses and apartments), a 15-per-cent increase over the 390 multi-family starts in the same period in 2010.

Though the lack of “affordable housing” has become a hot issue in the past year or so, both realtors and advocates for those on low or fixed incomes generally agree the term really only applies to the rental sector since Regina’s new and used private stock is still considered affordable compared with other Canadian cities. And with mortgage rates at bargain-basement rates, many first-time buyers have been able to start climbing the ladder of home ownership.

For those who must rent, the story is very different. As a recent feature article in the Leader-Post’s Weekender section revealed, there’s a growing problem of homelessness in this city. The lucky one’s “couch surf” in the homes of relatives or friends. Others bed down in emergency shelters – or sleep rough in parks, alleys and other public places. The latter option will soon disappear when winter arrives.

It’s not surprising that provincial politicians are being lobbied to address the rental housing issue during the current election campaign and it will be interesting to see what proposals there are in the various policy platforms. There’s certainly no shortage of ideas, including rent controls, tax incentives to encourage the construction of rental housing and higher shelter allowances for those on low or modest incomes.

Innovative ideas should be considered. For example, some cities in the U.K. have offered temporary low-rental housing to encourage the migation of in-demand skilled workers. Though this would require a significant provincial government investment in social housing if implemented in Regina, Saskatoon and other cities, predictions of future labour shortages as baby boomers retire suggest it could be an enticing benefit for prospective newcomers.

Decent, affordable shelter is a basic human need. We look forward to a vigorous debate on this important issue during the election campaign.

Read more: http://www.leaderpost.com/business/tough+time+find+shelter/5542086/story.html#ixzz1cNcls0H2

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