Housing shortage prominent issue

By Will Chabun, The Leader-Post October 27, 2011

The issue of housing has been – hands down – the primary concern facing his agency for the last two years and whomever wins the provincial election must tackle it, says Shawn Fraser, executive director of Carmichael Outreach.

The goal of a new government should be to somehow increase apartment vacancy rates, Fraser said.

“If the market is left to fix it, it’s just going to get worse before it gets better,” Fraser said.

Fraser says he worries what will happen in housing if plans to develop new Regina-area potash mines – with their heavy demand for construction workers – are realized.

His non-profit aid organization recently aired a new documentary on housing. In it, a man looks glumly toward the camera and says, “There’s no solution.”

The makers of the film, Bridging the Gap: Regina Landlords and Renters on Social Assistance, are less gloomy, but agree there are big problems.

A robust economy raises demand for apartments and raises rents, too. At the same time, the people in the documentary say the shelter allowance in the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan hasn’t kept pace.

On the other side, letters from the Social Services Ministry guaranteeing damage deposits are either cancelled or hard to get, landlords told the filmmakers, Alaina Harrison and Riley Moynes.

“We simply cannot allow the burden of housing to be placed on private industry,” Moynes said. “We need more social housing and we need to revamp our social services system. It just isn’t working.”

The Regina YWCA is holding an all-candidates meeting on affordable housing and homelessness tonight. Spokesperson Eric Greenway said the agency is committed to the idea of Housing First, which holds housing is a right. Rather than demanding other changes before housing, this says, “Adequate housing first, and then you can start to work on other things.”

In the provincial election campaign, the NDP made housing an issue by pledging “next-generation rent control,” exempting from rent review any new construction so as to get more new apartments onto the market.

As well, the NDP would give special consideration to owners of older buildings who want to increase rents to do renovations.

It would also give money to municipal low-income housing corporations and community-based organizations to build affordable units.

In reply, the Saskatchewan Party cited a record of building 850 affordable housing units, with 1,100 under development. Long-term, it says it plans to build 4,600 affordable units in the next four years – and contrasts this with the NDP’s record from 2000-07.

The Sask. Party offers a tax credit for first-time homebuyers and says past NDP governments specifically rejected rent control because it “actually decreases the supply of rental housing” by scaring off developers. The party adds it’s increased the rental housing supplement for low-income families and persons with disabilities five times and indexed them to reflect local conditions.

The Association of Saskatchewan Realtors rejects rent control and instead wants municipal governments to keep property taxes low and revamp the property tax system so upgraded older buildings are not taxed at a higher rate.

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