It's no secret that Saskatchewan's economic prosperity has created a population boom. An abundance of natural resources has meant a huge flow of migrants into the flat province, a phenomenon that’s evident in Saskatchewan's capital city of Regina. The Queen City's population has grown by almost 10% in the last five years, roughly fifteen times the rate of growth of the five years prior. This has created considerable strain on the housing market in Regina, and as a result the city's vacancy rate has dropped to 0.9% (the lowest in Canada). In response, the City has commissioned the development of the Comprehensive Housing Strategy (CHS) which was recently released.
The strategy recognizes a number of issues currently hindering the Regina housing market including: a lack of affordable and rental housing, the poor condition of existing housing stock, the need for diverse and special needs housing options, and the need to design complete and sustainable neighborhoods. In order to solve these challenges, the CHS proposes 36 strategies of which city administration has approved 29 for implementation in Regina. Here are some of the highlights:
Refine Property Tax and Capital Incentives
With limited resources at its disposal, one of the best ways the City can encourage affordable and rental housing developments is through tax exemptions and capital incentives. The CHS suggests the City discontinue property tax incentives for non-affordable housing developments and increase capital incentives for affordable housing units from $10,000 to 15,000 per unit.
Leverage Regina's Land Assets
Other municipalities across Canada have implemented "land bank" initiatives whereby municipal land assets are sold to fund housing initiatives. The CHS suggests the City of Regina allocate a portion of all similar sales towards addressing the low rate of rental and affordable housing. The strategy also suggests that the City continue to offer land assets at a discounted rate for the development of affordable housing units.
Advocate to Government for Support
As municipalities receive the smallest share of total tax dollars (about eight cents per dollar), one of the biggest roles the City can play in improving housing availability is to lobby the federal and provincial governments for increased funding to affordable housing initiatives.
Assist landlords in existing repair funding - Many property owners and managers are unaware of existing provincial incentives for improving the quality of their affordable and rental properties. The CHS recommends the City educate property owners and help them take advantage of these incentives.
Amend Zoning Bylaws
Red tape often keeps developers from pursuing the creation of rental units. The CHS suggests the City identify areas where apartment buildings might be appropriate and amend the Zoning Bylaw to expand those areas making it easier for developers to provide affordable rental solutions.
Fast-track Process for Affordable Housing Developments
The planning approval process for new developments can be lengthy. Under recommendation from the CHS, city administration had confirmed that a policy which would allow affordable and special needs housing developments to fast-track this process could be implemented immediately.
Innovative Housing Forms
The CHS suggests that the City partner with the private sector to develop prototypes of effective, affordable housing types that could be used in Regina. The City has already begun to pilot an incentive program for secondary suites which they hope to build on in the coming years.
These are just some of the strategies suggested to improve the availability of affordable housing in Regina. The Entire Comprehensive Housing Strategy and the Regina's administration's recommendations, can be found at the Design Regina Site. If there is something you would like to highlight, feel free to do that in the comments section below!
City Council will vote on the strategy April 8th 2013. Make sure to check back with us regularly as we continue to bring you the latest municipal news in Regina Saskatchewan.