City battles rising housing prices: Housing plan exceeds target in 2013

Reported by François Biber, NewsTalk 650 CKOM, April 8, 2014 - New numbers highlighting Saskatoon’s housing market show it’s getting more expensive to buy or even rent.“Our housing market is now priced at about the same place as what Edmonton is,” Councillor Charlie Clark said Tuesday, where councillors learned the average home in Saskatoon is valued at $344,000.

“When you’re a city that’s one third the size and doesn’t necessarily have all the same amenities as a city like Edmonton it makes it more difficult to make this city attractive for people to move here and work here.”

At the planning and operations committee meeting, councillors heard how the city’s administration is battling the housing market trend through its affordable housing business plan.

In its first five years from 2008-2012 the City of Saskatoon helped build 500 affordable units each year. Because of the success of the program, in 2013 city council agreed to renew the program for another 10 years, building 480 units per year.

In 2013 the city already surpassed its goal by 149 units constructing 629 units in the first year. In 2014 they’re on track to build 492 units.

Those units are mixed between affordable rentals, affordable homes and rent-to-own. In 2013 on the affordable home side, the most expensive home was listed at $273,000. The majority of units are apartment and condo units.

But the concentration of where these affordable units are going is a cause for concern for Pat Lorje.

“It is quite clear that the ratio of home ownership to rental accommodation is badly out of whack in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood,” Lorje said, adding the neighbourhood has one of the highest renter-to-owner ratios at 70 per cent.

She asked the administration to focus on affordable ownership in core neighbourhoods in hopes of bringing the renting population down to about 40 per cent of the neighbourhood.

Director of planning and development, Alan Wallace said in the 2015 budget, city council will be asked to allocate an additional $750,000 into the housing business plan to offer more incentives to developers.

“Last year we took a look at where affordable housing was being built and affordable rental is the issue and we noticed it’s being concentrated in a few neighbourhoods in Saskatoon so we decided to create an incentive and that’s what the $300,000 is, an additional capital grant if you look outside of those neighbourhoods that have a high concentration of affordable housing units,” Wallace said.

Rising rental costs also garnered a lot of attention as city councillors recited example of large families, some as big as 10-12 members, would be forced into a one to two bedroom suite because they couldn’t afford anything more.

The issue of over-crowing, Lorje said, needs to be addressed as well.

“It’s very evident that the quality of life really suffers when you’re living in crowded circumstances, when the quality of life suffers, life choices suffer and that has a further negative impact on an already stressed neighbourhood,” Lorje said.

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