Namerind Logo

Media Centre

Housing entrepreneur says more affordable housing is needed in Regina

By Kerry Benjoe, The Leader Post - March 7, 2016

Namerind president and CEO Robert Byers beside design renderings for their planned mix-use head office building that is to be built in downtown Regina in November 2015. Photo: Don Healy / The Leader Post

 

One aboriginal housing corporation believes Regina needs more affordable housing units.

Robert Byers, CEO of Namerind Housing Corp., wants to know why the City of Regina is not being more proactive when it comes to development.

He believes investment in housing is far more valuable than just the financial investment. 

“It builds community,” said Byers.

He believes if people have a nice home it helps to strengthen families, and it is something all levels of government should seriously consider.

Byers has been involved with housing for the past decade, and despite the increased vacancy rate in the city he says the need for affordable housing is still there. 

“Our vacancy rate is zero — it’s always zero,” he said. 

Namerind is currently working on a 170-unit affordable housing apartment tower in downtown Regina. 

Last month, the City of Vancouver announced a pre-budget pitch to the federal government. It is willing to offer $250 million worth of city-owned property if the federal government would invest in affordable housing initiatives in that city.

Byers wants to know where Regina’s pitch is.

Shauna Bzdel, director of planning for the city, said the city has a long-term plan in place when it comes to housing in Regina. 

“In April 2013, the comprehensive housing strategy was passed, and out of that the mayor’s housing commission was established,” she said. “The comprehensive housing strategy basically talks about different housing issues or things top of mind of the city, and those things change.”

The city provides $2.5 million in capital grants for below-market rental and ownership units through the Housing Incentive Program (HIP). 

“On top of that, we also provide a five-year tax exemption for newly constructed below-market units — both rental and ownership,” said Bzdel.

The city also provides the land to allow for such projects to happen. 

Since 2011, the city has provided $738,000 worth of land for affordable housing, which works out to 6,000 square metres of land or 14 lots.

The city did not donate the land completely, but that council approved selling the “tax title property” below market value, which resulted in a “loss” of revenue of $738,000.

Also since 2011, the City of Regina has contributed $7.8 million in capital grants and $4.1 million in municipal portion tax incentives. 

“Housing is definitely a priority for the city and the council, and they have taken huge strides in making it a priority and making it a reality by adopting the comprehensive housing strategy,” said Bzdel. 

Social housing, however, is a provincial and federal responsibility.

Donna Harpauer, minister of social services for the province, said the government understands the need for affordable housing. 

Since 2007, the SaskParty has created 3,152 affordable housing units and $112 million in affordable rental and affordable home ownership projects.

Over the past four years much of the focus has been on increasing the housing stock to increase the vacancy rate throughout the province. She said now that it’s sitting at 5.4 per cent, the province is focusing specific initiatives such as specialized homes for the hard to house.