Southeast Regional College to move forward with Estevan housing project

By Chad Saxon, The Estevan Mercury, March 12, 2014 - The Southeast Regional College’s quest to create an affordable housing complex in Estevan is one step closer to reality. The college released the results of the Estevan Student and Market Rental Housing Report on Friday and the document confirmed what many had already suspected: that there is an unmet affordable housing need for not only SRC students but also the community at large.

“It’s something that needs to be done for the community of Estevan,” said Dion McGrath, the CEO and president of the college Monday.

Word of the college’s desire to create a housing complex in the Energy City emerged in late 2013, but took a step forward when McGrath released the results of a separate study regarding the impact of the Bakken oil formation at an Estevan Chamber of Commerce meeting in January.

It was at that meeting when McGrath informed the public about the housing report, which was completed by Preferred Choice of Saskatoon. The goal of the report was to answer three main questions; is there a community need for affordable housing; is there a need for affordable student housing; and should the college invest more resources to develop a comprehensive plan?

The answer to all three questions was an overwhelming yes.

“It confirmed what everyone in the community intuitively knows, that there is a severe affordable housing shortage in Estevan and it is creating bottlenecks to economic growth in Estevan and area because jobs just can’t get filled because there is no place for folks to live,” he said.

“There is housing growth, the private sector is putting up housing stock and we are not proposing to get into what they are doing. The whole principle of this project is affordable rental housing.”

McGrath said the next step in their process is to complete the business and investment plan.

“That is all about expenditures and revenues, seeing what the numbers are saying, looking at design options and, most importantly working with the city on a location,” McGrath said.

Although the details of what shape the housing project may take will be figured out over the next few weeks, the report from Preferred Choice suggests that for the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute and Estevan college campus to be fully utilized, accommodations are needed for 70 to 80 students. It’s also expected there will be accommodations for local businesses who have been unable to find lodging for their employees and those in the community in need of affordable housing.

“The (figure) was based on where we think we need to take the college in Estevan,” he said. “That is a mixture of attracting learners who don’t live in Estevan or immediately around Estevan. It’s a combination of enhancing those that are already there, with those that have to come from far away. We anticipate that 70 to 80 beds would probably get us to the programming level that we are targeting.”

McGrath added that work on the business plan has already begun and they are hoping to have a preliminary draft by the end of March. He said one of the critical components moving forward is securing land from the City of Estevan, which has been very supportive of the project. Attracting financial support from the local business community will also be very important.

“The land is the first piece that we need,” he said. “The next piece, once the business plan and investment plan are in place, is the actual interest from the private sector.

“We have been very clear to government that if the private sector in Estevan and area aren’t willing to help address the bottleneck that is slowing their productivity and their economic growth, it is going to be a very hard proposition to take to government and ask them to solve the problem.

“It is our hope that we will be able to attract significant private sector investment and combine that with public sector investment to make the entire project work.”

McGrath added that the provincial and federal governments have not indicated their intentions as of yet. However, he has been pleased with the initial interest shown locally.

“We’ve had many contacts with interested individuals and businesses inquiring about what are we proposing to do, how are we proposing to do it. In those conversations, especially from the business folks, their interest is in getting greater access to affordable housing so that they can fill their vacant positions.

"Those people that we’ve had the conversations with clearly see a growth opportunity and my sense is everyone is going to wait to see what the numbers in the project are going to say.”

Mayor Roy Ludwig said the City was pleased to hear the project is moving to the next phase. As for the land needed, he said no final decision has been made but they have an area in mind that would be near the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute.

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