by Nic Olson
I will be presenting the following at the April 29, 2013 Regina City Council Meeting. If you are also concerned about the fate of housing in Regina, please show up at City Hall at 5:30pm. To read the Roof-Ready Regina – A More Comprehensive Housing Strategy, click here.
My name is Nicholas Olson. I’m the Frontline Support Manager at Carmichael Outreach. We at Carmichael teamed up with some other organizations and non-profits in Regina such as Regina Anti-Poverty Network, Project People, Making Peace Vigil, Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, and the Queen City Tenants Association to come up with a document we call Roof-Ready Regina – A More Comprehensive Housing Strategy. In it we highlight several strategies that we as community organizations feel are imperative to add to the proposed housing strategy in order to properly represent all populations in Regina, and thus making the current Comprehensive Housing Strategy truly comprehensive.
At Carmichael, in dealing with those who are most severely affected by the housing crisis on a daily basis, we have noticed that several things could be improved upon in the Strategy to benefit all populations. First of all, we ask that the ‘Made In Regina’ definition of Affordable Rental Housing, defined in the Comprehensive Housing Strategy as “housing with rents at or below average market rent,” be changed to coincide with the definition provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC. Using the ‘market price’ as the marker does not at all ensure affordability. The CMHC definition states that “The cost of adequate shelter should not exceed 30% of household income. Housing which costs less than this is considered affordable.” Using a ‘Made In Regina’ definition will leave many citizens behind. The hourly wage required to afford the average cost of a Regina bachelor apartment is $13/hour, something a cashier or sales clerk working full time at the average rate cannot afford. A single non-journeyman carpenter making the Saskatchewan average of $15.40/hour cannot afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment. In order to properly afford a three-bedroom apartment in Regina, a person must make $23/hour working full time. A single unemployable person on Saskatchewan Assistance gets a shelter allowance of $459 which does not come close to the $633 average cost of a bachelor apartment. A family with 5 or more children on Saskatchewan assistance can barely afford to pay rent on a one bedroom apartment in Regina. All these statistics are based on numbers from the Saskatchewan Wage Survey of 2011 conducted by the Government of Saskatchewan; Saskatchewan Assistance Rates (October 2012); and the CMHC Fall 2012 Rental Market Report. Although average wages in Saskatchewan are at an all-time high, using the CMHC definition for affordable housing shows that many full-time employed citizens can’t afford to pay average rental costs. Basing the Affordable Housing portions of the Housing Strategy on an improper definition prevents equal and effective decisions to be made for those urgently affected by these the housing crisis.
Secondly, with the limited resources that a city has in the development of housing, affordable or not, we ask that more be done with incentives, programs, policies and bylaws. We would ask that the city require developers to include affordable housing in their plans, or alternatively, to pay into an affordable housing account or ‘Inclusionary Fund’, run and managed by the City and non-profit developers. Similar practices have been in place in Montreal since 2005, which function similar to Density Bonusing. Montreal strongly encourages developers who built over 200 units to include 30% social housing, or if social units are impossible to accommodate, that the developer can offer land, buildings or a financial contribution to the ‘Inclusionary Fund’. This practice, housing groups in Montreal have suggested, will not slow overall development but rather deter gentrification, encourage proper proportions of housing in all neighbourhoods by community minded developers, and encourage social mix in all neighbourhoods as well. Targeting developments that require important zoning changes, and developments that rely on municipal or government land is important to best use the City’s assets and jurisdiction.
Third, we ask that special needs and supportive housing be given special consideration by the City and that they work with existing subsidized housing providers to look into for opportunities. Carmichael Outreach works with the people most difficult to house in Regina. Many face one or more barriers to finding housing, including: addictions, mental illness, poverty, racism and a less than ideal past rental history. Further, we house a position to help find housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, as many of those diagnosed name homelessness or precarious housing as one of the main barriers to improving their health and adhering to their medication regiment. This is an increasingly important issue considering the fact that Saskatchewan has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Canada. It is almost impossible to find housing for these people within the current housing market.
Housing First models, where people are given a home as the first step and then programming and outreach is offered second, has been a successful approach to getting and keeping people housed, but it must be done in such a way that support is on-going and constant. It is for this reason that we ask the City of Regina to actively pursue supportive housing opportunities as well as projects that subscribe to a Housing First model as an effective means of housing the difficult to house.
We believe that these requests, as well as the remaining the requests on the Roof-Ready Regina document are reasonable, attainable, and achievable goals for the City of Regina to ensure all populations are properly represented with adequate forms of housing.