Minister defends number of housing starts

By Joe Couture, The StarPhoenix

March 12, 2013 - The Opposition NDP says the provincial government is not doing enough to encourage development of higher-density housing, but the social services minister says she is satisfied things are on the right track.

Housing critic David Forbes cited recent Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. numbers showing starts on multi-family units were down, particularly in Saskatoon, in the first part of this year.

Minister June Draude, who is responsible for the Saskatchewan Housing Corp., acknowledged the numbers, but said she isn't worried considering the long-term trend.

"The year over year from last year to this year is down somewhat," Draude told re-porters after question period, in which she responded to Forbes' inquiries on the issue.

"Last year we had nearly 10,000 units built," she said afterward about all housing starts across the province. "And we're expecting about 8,300 this year, so overall, I'm still very excited and very positive about the housing numbers ... The last time we had over 7,000 units built was in the '70s."

Draude said that the government hasn't "heard anybody coming and saying, 'You need to do more' " to provide incentives for new property development.

"What they're saying is, 'You need more skilled labourers, you need to have the developed land, you need to help us in that area,' " she said.

But Forbes told reporters "the government announced incentives for apartment builds last year and it doesn't seem to be working."

He expressed concern about the impact of low supply on housing prices and reiterated his calls for the government to look at implementing a system of rent controls.

He said others actions are needed, too.

"I think that there could be better incentives around making sure that we have long-term rental units here in this province and we also need to see this government step up through Sask. Housing to build more affordable rental units and what they're doing in their policy right now is a bit of a masquerade about shifting affordable units around and selling properties and clearly not creating the new places," Forbes said.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix