Everyone has a right to adequate, affordable, and safe shelter. Over the years, however, housing has become less affordable for a growing number of residents. That's why I will continue to be a strong advocate for adequate and affordable housing in Ward 3.
Despite recent increases in market supply and vacancy rates, rents in Regina have continued to climb. Around 11% of Regina residents are low-income, with a growing number of renters spending 30% or more of their income on accommodations.
Average rents increased by 12% in between 2013 and 2016, and they have ballooned by 66% since 2007. The economic slowdown has done little to curb this trend. To make matters worse, affordable housing units owned by the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation sit vacant throughout North Central.
Tax incentives and subsidies to private developers have failed to produce the adequate and affordable housing that Regina needs. The good news is that City Administration revised the Housing Incentive Policy (HIP) to focus on affordable rental units. With small landlords struggling to make ends meet, rents outpacing income, and developers pressing for more construction, Regina needs a housing policy that meets the needs of its people, not the development industry.
Along with the Mayor, I was part of the working group that helped to establish the Plan to End Homelessness, which was ultimately adopted by Council in 2020. So far, the provincial government has made indication that it will take seriously the recommendations that stemmed from extensive community consultation and analysis.
Homelessness, much of it hidden, is a blight of injustice and exclusion in our community and a threat to the health and well-being of those who experience it. It's also costly and avoidable.
Existing responses, focused on emergency services, are inadequate. We need a major shift to focus on prevention, and a strategy to move people who become homeless into stable and supported housing.
The city of Medicine Hat, for example, has virtually eliminated homelessness by adopting a Housing First strategy in collaboration with community agencies. We can learn from Medicine Hat's experience. There, the fiscal conservative mayor who initially campaigned against that city’s homelessness strategy now champions the initiative. Why? Because ending homelessness is not only humane, achievable, and the right thing to do; it's also cheaper than inaction.
I will continue to be a strong advocate for scaling up a Housing First strategy - in collaboration with the province and other local agencies - to end homelessness in Regina.
Too often when tenants move, garbage and old furniture are piled up on the property for weeks. Burned and damaged homes remain a blight in the community for months. That can’t be allowed to happen. Uninhabitable houses need to be demolished as soon as possible and bylaws need to be enforced. I will also work with tenants to ensure that landlords are held accountable for the state of their property and housing standards.
Smart cities are turning to heritage protection as a means to retain diverse, sustainable neighbourhoods, to reduce stress on landfills, to generate economic activity, and to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Neighbourhoods that contain a mix of older, smaller buildings generate greater levels economic and social activity than areas dominated by new, larger buildings. They are part of what the City considers complete community.
It is also good for retaining affordable housing. In Ward 3, many older homes are being bought by developers for demolition. In many cases they are replaced by large, high-priced new homes that are beyond the budget of Ward 3’s eclectic mix of residents, including students, artists, and low income families.
Heritage protection is also good for the environment. Using life cycle cost analysis, researchers found that even if a new home is 30% more energy efficient than its replacement, it takes between 28 to 50 years to offset the carbon impact of new construction. In the case of large public buildings, the offset range increases to up to 80 years. A retrofitted home or public building can affordably achieve the same energy efficiencies through retrofitting without this added carbon footprint. Demolition also adds waste to limited landfill space.
There are also economic impacts attached to heritage preservation. Renovations and restoration creates good jobs in our city.
I will continue to advocate for heritage protection, including expanding the city’s restoration incentives and explore the expansion of Downtown Regina’s designated heritage to include the Cathedral and Heritage neighbourhoods. This will encourage additional attention to and support for heritage preservation as a first option over demolition and new construction. We also need to implement policies that factor in the environmental costs of demolition, including an analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions and landfill use.