by John B. Pluck
Faced with a worsening affordable housing crisis the government announced today in its 2011 budget a $1.7-million investment in two new housing initiatives. However housing advocates are unimpressed.
A total of $1.5 million will be provided to develop 300 rental housing units. This funding will be provided under the Saskatchewan Rental Incentive Program.
To stimulate homeownership opportunities the new Saskatchewan Municipal Affordable Homeownership Program will be provided with $200,000.This initiative will reimburse participating municipalities for the education portion of property tax that is provided as a grant to homeowners.
Peter Gilmore of the Anti Poverty Ministry is disappointed with the budgetary allocation of funds for affordable housing.
He said given the scale of the housing crisis in the province, the government's budgetary response is very limited.
Gilmore said house rental costs have increased by 40 per cent over the last four years.
“What we needed to see was a significant financial commitment to new affordable and social housing projects,” said Gilmore.
"That commitment was not evident from this budget," said Gilmore.
Gilmore believes 300 new housing units is far too little. A thousand would have been more realistic based on the extent of the crisis.
“I am very disappointed,” said David Forbes,opposition housing critic.
He believes that much more money that $1.7 million should have been allocated for affordable housing in the 2011 budget.
With 1,984 people on the Sask Housing waiting list, 300 new housing units is not a significant response to the affordable housing crisis, Forbes said.
Forbes acknowledges that the rental cap legislation that his party has been lobbying for over the past few week is a legislative issue. He was hoping, however, that the government would have announced a long-term strategy to deal with the rental crisis.
According to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives statistics, in the past three years Saskatchewan vacancy rates have been dropping. In 2009 the vacancy rate was 1.5 per cent. This figure dropped to one per cent in 2010.
Compounding the province's rental crisis were average apartment rental rates of $784, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation 2010 market report.
June Draude, Minister of Social Services, said more information on the location of the 300 new housing units will be given in an announcement on Monday.
Draude said the government will not have the final dicision on where the new housing units will be built. She said that the government will be working with different municipalites to figure out the locations in the province with the greatest need.
Photo top right above : Peter Gilmore of the Anti-Poverty Ministry
Photo middle left: David Forbes, opposition housing critic
Photos by John B.Pluck