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NO ROOM AT THE INN: REGINA’S HOUSING CRISIS

Posted by strattof on December 17, 2015

The Christmas story is quite well-known: Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and find there is no room at the inn.

But how familiar are we with the current accommodation crisis in Regina. 2000 years later, there is still no room at the inn.

  • The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Regina is $915, hardly affordable for a full-time minimum wage worker earning $1,830 per month. The commonly accepted definition of “affordable housing” is housing that costs a household 30% or less of its income.
  • In May, Regina conducted a homeless count, finding 232 people were homeless in our city.
  • 63 (or 37%) of the people counted were children.
  • Many more Regina citizens double-bunk, couch-surf, or live in over-crowded unhealthy conditions. Some even live in cars.
  • A significant amount of rental housing in Regina is below acceptable standards.

REGINA’S RENTAL HOUSING CRISIS

BACKGROUND

Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis began in the early 2000s. That’s when

  • Rents began to increase sharply, rising from an average of $539 in 2006 to $732 in 2009, a 40% increase in three years.
  • The rental apartment vacancy rate began to fall sharply, dropping below 1% in 2008, with little improvement until 2013. A healthy vacancy rate is 3%.

CAUSES

The causes of Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis are many, including a booming economy, probably short-lived, and a growing population. However, City of Regina policy decisions also played a key role.

CONDO CONVERSIONS & DEMOLITIONS

  • Until 2012, the City of Regina permitted apartments to be converted into condos. The result was the loss of over 500 apartments between 2006 and 2011.
  • In 2012, City Council allowed the demolition of two low-rent apartment buildings which together provided 56 apartments.

ENRICHING DEVELOPERS

  • From 2013 – 2015, the City of Regina offered developers a grant of $15,000 per unit to build market rate rental housing. As well as enriching developers, this policy helped raise the vacancy rate (it’s now 5.3%). It did not increase the number of affordable rental units.

BUDGET & POLICY PRIORITIES

  • Mayor Fougere cancelled the 2015 Housing Summit, saying “we’ve met a lot of benchmarks.” Clearly affordability is not a benchmark. Rents continue to rise.
  • In 2015, the $3.6 million increase allocated to the Regina Police Service budget was more than two times the amount allocated to the entire affordable rental housing budget.

CRIMINALIZING HOMELESSNESS

Rather than working to solve Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis, city officials have put considerable effort into criminalizing poverty and homelessness.

  • 2008: City Council amended its Tag Day bylaw, intended to be used to regulate charities, to make panhandling illegal. In 2009, the Tag Day bylaw was repealed. Courts had found municipal bans against panhandling unconstitutional.
  • 2009: City Council passed the Parks and Open Space bylaw, which prohibits people from sleeping in parks. A 2015 Supreme Court ruling found that such bylaws are unconstitutional. Regina has yet to repeal its bylaw.
  • 2015: Regina Police Service launched its Unwanted Guest Initiative, as a replacement for the Tag Day bylaw. Its purpose is to allow businesses to ban individuals from their property. People who panhandle are its main target.

 SOLVING REGINA’S HOUSING CRISIS

The City of Regina cannot solve all Regina’s housing problems. There are, however, measures the city can take which will go some way to addressing our city’s housing crisis. Here are four of them:

  1. Require developers to include affordable housing in their plans or pay a fee into an affordable housing account.
  2. Identify empty buildings that can be converted into affordable housing and work with the business community to fund their renovation. Sears Warehouse would be a good place to start.
  3. Develop a program to build 100 new units of affordable rental housing a year, with matching funding from the province.
  4. Implement rental unit licensing to ensure housing is safe and secure, and also meets health standards.

MAKING ROOM AT THE INN

During the holiday festivities, take the time to advocate for affordable rental housing. Let Mayor Fougere and your City Councillor know you want the City of Regina to take concrete action to address Regina’s affordable rental housing crisis.

Mayor Michael Fougere          777-7339 or mayor@regina.ca

Ward 1: Barbara Young          539-4081 or byoung@regina.ca

Ward 2: Bob Hawkins            789-2888 or bhawkins@regina.ca

Ward 3: Shawn Fraser           551-5030 or sfraser@regina.ca

Ward 4: Bryon Burnett          737-3347 or bburnett@regina.ca

Ward 5: John Findura           536-4250 or jfindura@regina.ca

Ward 6: Wade Murray           596-1035 or wmurray@regina.ca

Ward 7: Sharron Bryce         949-5025 or sbryce@regina.ca

Ward 8: Mike O’Donnell      545-7300 or modonnell@regina.ca

Ward 9: Terry Hincks           949-9690 or thincks@regina.ca

Ward 10:Jerry Flegel            537-9888 or jflegel@regina.ca

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