Platform – Action on Housing
Thank you for the opportunity to provide my thoughts and my ideas about how to get Regina out of the crisis of affordable and available housing. What I have presented below is what I would do individually as Mayor of Regina. These are within my perceived role as an advocate for the citizens of Regina. Besides this, I would hope to put pressure on various other community leaders such that they would be allies to broaden the call for action on this issue and to find solutions.
First of all, the status quo of saying it isn’t a municipal government’s responsibility is unacceptable. Action must be taken. The City of Regina and the Mayor must be an intervener or advocate for those needing affordable, appropriate housing in our city. No one should be left behind. I would be encouraging my colleagues on council to be advocates wherever and whenever they are in a position to influence.
Much of what I am suggesting is related to rental housing but other models of ownership, cooperatives, co-housing and non-profit ownership could be used as ways to get people into housing. Action must also be taken to build new social housing to support the most vulnerable.
A. Internal Actions
1. Community Leaders Advisory Committee
This body provides a forum for community leaders who work collaboratively at a strategic level to provide a credible voice to both City Council and citizens to inform and influence the vision and strategic directions of the community and City of Regina. Housing is a significant enough issue that this should be placed on this body’s agenda with the plan that they can provide guidance, external and internal support for actions being taken. As the chairperson for this committee, I would bring the question to this committee and ask for advice and suggestions to solve this crisis. Part of this might be to establish a subcommittee on housing such that they could garner action and recommendations for change. As stated previously, I would encourage them to individually or collectively get involved in the issue.
2. Changing the Focus on Housing
a. Pressure on Parking Lots
Parking lots should not be considered as no or limited development. Taxes should be commensurate to the potential value of the property. Housing should be seen as the primary choice for the use of property, especially downtown and especially where infrastructure is in place. Lots should be given support and incentives to move from a one use parking lot to one that has housing as its primary use with parking as secondary.
There are significant numbers of single use parking lots in the downtown. These, if converted to residential lots with a compliment of parking, would go a significant way to provide housing. It could also spur on other development like grocery stores. One mechanism that would give them an incentive to convert to residential lots would be a change in the taxing regime for these lots. Currently, they are taxed at a very low rate. This tax, in time, would be increased so as to make it financially beneficial to have residential development.
b. Pressure on Maintenance of Rental Properties
All properties should be encouraged strongly to maintain their properties up to the highest standards as is possible. Properties should not be allowed to run down to the point of the need for demolition. Materials or repairs pooling should be encouraged. Current property maintenance is currently problematic in this low vacancy time. Housing should be encouraged such that all properties are kept at well maintained. Penalties for not maintaining the property would be increased such that the incentive would be to maintain the property at the best state possible. Property owners would be encouraged to maintain their properties.
c. Pressure on Developers for more Infill Housing
Current practices allow for 75 per cent of housing development to be done on greenfields or urban sprawl. More emphasis and a change in city policy would focus efforts onto infill or brownfield developments, especially downtown. This should be maintained until such time as a reasonable percentage of the vacant or underdeveloped lots in the city are utilized for housing. The second mechanism to encourage housing downtown would be to limit the amount of greenfield development space available and increase the amount of brownfield or previously-developed space downtown for housing. I would be proposing that we put a moratorium on the size of Regina until such time as all of the parking lots in the inner city are replaced with housing.
d. Intervention of City on Demolition of Housing Properties
A couple of additional steps should be required to demolish a housing property. These would require a public notice of the intent to demolish a building and that the public be required to give consent to the demolition.
Housing and especially rental housing properties must be redeveloped into housing within 5 years. The recent inaction around the demolition of 1755 Hamilton Street showed that there should be more intervention or action with landowners such that rental housing properties are maintained or expanded. One noticeable step could be added to the demolition permit process is to allow for a screening of the application to see if it would adversely affect the availability of housing in Regina. The threshold used could be the same as the condominium conversion level, i.e. 3% vacancy rate. If the vacancy rate is below this, the demolition would require Council approval. The Council could still deny the application, especially if the property could be repaired. Another part of the action of the city may be to require future plans to be in place before demolition is accepted either for a replacement building or a guarantee of action within a specified period of time. An idea of no net loss of housing could be used as a benchmark for ongoing action.
e. Modification to the Condominium Conversion Policy
This bylaw needs to be changed such that rental properties are further protected from conversion from the current level of 2 % vacancy rate to 3% vacancy.
B. Ongoing pressure on Provincial, Federal and Other Governments
1. Regular meetings with MLAs, MPs and Housing Officials
There needs to be regular meetings with various other levels including Aboriginal leaders to have housing be seen as a priority. Mechanisms for cooperative ventures could be explored and supported through this ongoing dialogue. Regular meetings would be encouraged to increase the communication between the various levels of government. It would also allow for informing each other of upcoming actions as well as encourage collaboration and cooperation on common issues or concerns. Current agenda items might be the introduction of rent controls or the provision of social housing. One might consider housing an appropriate infrastructure item. These meetings would happen perhaps quarterly. I would start fairly quickly with a meeting with the city’s MLAs and MPs at which I would report back to the citizens of Regina.
2. Financial Incentives for Rental Housing
The development of rental housing properties should be considered the pinnacle of uses until such time as there is a balanced, affordable market. Therefore incentives, through tax abatements or other mechanisms, would be set such that housing development would be encouraged, rental properties especially. For example, bonusing might be used to add residential floors to a commercial property downtown or in other parts of the city.
3. Intervention through Non-Profit Housing Ventures
a. Innovative and cooperative ventures for the production, financing and operations of housing
The City of Regina should engage other partners including non-profit organizations to explore and develop alternatives to market-driven housing. This could include the involvement of financial incentives and venture capital funds.
b. Financial Incentives and Other Actions for Rental Housing
Further models of involvement in rental housing should be explored including the provision of city staff or elected officials on their Boards of Directors. Other jurisdictions have used the involvement of the city directly in non-profit housing ventures such that their presence would be seen as a sign of support by the municipality. Venture capital funds could be developed to marshal funds from the broader public and larger pension funds, for instance.