Affordable homes shift to east side

The StarPhoenix April 10, 2015 - The east-west divide in Saskatoon’s stock of affordable housing is coming to an end.

About 75 per cent of the more than 1,100 attainable housing units built last year and pending in Saskatoon for this year are located on the east side of the river — a deliberate effort to address a historic imbalance.

The City of Saskatoon continues to exceed its goal for adding both affordable rental housing and home ownership options, says a report to be presented to Monday’s planning, development and community services committee meeting.

The city surpassed its goal of adding 480 new units in 2014 by providing incentives to help create 542 “attainable” units, and 565 new units are approved for 2015, it says.

“Most of the attainable housing is now being built on the east side of the river,” said Alan Wallace, the city’s director of planning and development.

“There’s variances. In fact, we would like to see attainable housing built in all areas of the city, but what we’re encouraged by is the supply of lands being made available in some of our new neighbourhoods on the east side.”

Land coming on stream in the Stonebridge and Evergreen neighbourhoods has helped make the shift possible, the report notes. In 2013, most of the 629 affordable units were built on the west side.

Wallace said city officials want the province to extend agreements that share the cost of the programs that provide incentives to build low-income rental properties and low-cost home ownership options. The agreements are slated to expire on March 31, 2016.

The city diverts about $1 million a year to a fund that helps encourage attainable housing.

Adding affordable housing in fast-growing Saskatoon is important because the slow pace of income growth lags far behind that of house prices and rent, Wallace said.

The average price of a Saskatoon home hit $356,476 in 2014 and average rent for a two-bedroom apartment reached $1,093, according to city statistics.

“That’s that moving target,” Wallace added. “Rents and land value have risen much faster than income has.”

The city’s attainable housing program continues to attract attention from across the country, according to Wallace, with particular focus on the mortgage flexibility support program that offers low-income earners the chance to own a home. Under the program, 385 units have been built in Saskatoon, he said.

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