As Saskatoon's face changes, need for affordable housing grows

CBC News, Nov 21, 2014 - Mary Jumma immigrated from Sudan to Canada, living in Ontario before moving to Saskatoon in 2009. Since then she and her five children have called a west side affordable housing development home.

"We pay one thousand and fifty dollars. For five bedrooms, it is very good," Jumma said of her capped monthly rent. "Any other way you pay like 2000 dollars. It is very good. I don't know, Saskatoon is very expensive."

Jumma lives in one of 34 affordable rental units. They are intended for families. Each has three to five bedrooms and rent is capped.

Pastor Frank Jeske and his congregation at the Westgate Alliance Church built this development with newcomers in mind.

"We looked at our community and the needs that were in our community and we realized there was a shortage of affordable housing," Jeske explained. "We also noticed there were a lot of new Canadians moving to the west side of the city."

The group, now working as Westgate Heights Attainable Housing, began the project in 2007 and funded it with some financial help from Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and the City of Saskatoon.

In addition to the housing development, Jeske's group offers free child care, English and driving classes out of their church, located next door to the housing development.

Jeske said the work is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the need that exists.

"All the units are full and we have a waiting list," Jeske said. "We have a large list we have to go through. There is always people coming in looking for this type of housing."

Jeske joined politicians, market analysts, professors and other community stakeholders at a luncheon to mark National Housing Day on Friday.

Affordable housing needed

Joe Garcea, head of the department of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, studies the relationship between immigration and housing. He said an affordable housing strategy is needed.

"It is becoming very difficult for people to afford housing and food," Garcea said. "For many of them everything they get, regardless of where they get it from, goes to just those two things and they have nothing else."

Market analysts at the meeting said the total number of new housing starts is up to 340 in Saskatoon this year, as compared to 185 for all of 2013.

However, to developers the idea of affordable housing is not always an easy sell.

"We have a number of programs to try and draw them to these areas but builders are business people," said Don Allen, President and CEO of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation. "So if they see a demand and they see a business opportunity they'll go there. Sometimes they just need to have a light shone on it."

National Housing Day falls on November 22.

Link to story