One in five households live in “unaffordable housing’’

By Bruce Johnstone, Leader-Post September 24, 2013 - REGINA — More than 20 per cent of Saskatchewan households are living in “unaffordable housing,’’ which is higher than the national average and Manitoba, but lower than Alberta, according to the August edition of Sask Trends Monitor. “It’s a very large number,’’ said Doug Elliott, publisher of Sask Trends Monitor, a Regina-based monthly statistical newsletter. “Twenty per cent is one out of every five households.’’

Elliott said Statistics Canada considers 30 per cent of gross household income spent on rent or mortgage payments, taxes and utilities as the dividing line between living in “affordable housing” and “unaffordable housing.’’ And Saskatchewan has seen a steady erosion in housing affordability since 2001, especially in the past five or six years.

In 1996, about 18 per cent of Saskatchewan households spent 30 per cent or more of their gross income on housing; by 2001, that had fallen to 16.1 per cent, but went back up to 17.6 per cent in 2006 and then to 20.3 per cent in 2011. By comparison, the national average of households living in “unaffordable housing” in 2011 was 18.5 per cent, while Manitoba’s average was 19.3 and Alberta’s 23.7 per cent.

Elliott said the erosion in housing affordability is largely due to the sharp rise in property values from 2006 to 2011 — from $147,000 to $267,000 for an average single-family home in an urban centre in Saskatchewan. That’s still 33 per cent below the Alberta average and 23 per cent below the national average in 2011.

“This is during a period when incomes rose quite dramatically, so this wasn’t because we had less money. It’s because housing costs have increased more than incomes,’’ Elliott said.

But he noted that Saskatchewan housing prices had been depressed for decades until taking off in 2007-08. “Some of that (price increase) is catch-up,’’ he said. “Since then, it’s been growing at unsustainable rates.”

For example, the average price of a resale home on the multiple listing service (MLS) in Regina in 2006 was $130,000; by 2007, that had increased to $165,000 and by 2008 to $230,000. “The MLS price doubled in Regina and Saskatoon between 2006 and 2011,’’ he added.

Of course, single-detached homes represent nearly three-quarters of the housing in Saskatchewan in 2011; renters in low-rise and highrise apartments, semi-detached homes, duplexes and row houses, make up the other 26 per cent. Yet renters make up more than 40 per cent of households living in unaffordable housing.

“Renters are more likely to be in unaffordable housing than homeowners,” Elliott added.

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