JordonCooper Rotating Header Image

The State of the Debate on Housing Right Now in Saskatchewan

This comes from a December 14, 2011 Question Period in the Legislature.  Direct from Hansard

Ms. Chartier

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Social Services has been housing many people in hotels like the Coachman, the Sunrise and the Quality Inn in Regina. There’s been one man who’s had to call the Coachman home for seven months, Mr. Speaker. He was housed in the Coachman for seven months at approximately $2,676 a month, or about $90 a day. He asked for an increase in his shelter allowance and was denied. The government has made the choice to house people in hotels rather than work with them to find affordable and appropriate housing.

To the minister: why is this government choosing to pay huge hotel bills instead of addressing inadequate shelter allowances?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I don’t know specifically the case the member is talking about. But I can tell you that we have raised emergency shelter rates by 85 per cent, and we’ve increased the number of spaces by 130 since we became government. Mr. Speaker, we have new spaces in Saskatoon in the Salvation Army Mumford House. And we know that there is more work to be done in this area, Mr. Speaker. And we also know that our hotel usage has decreased considerably in the last year. In February 2010, we were using an average of 427 rooms a night, and last year it was 30.

Mr. Speaker, we know there’s more work to be done to ensure that people have a safe place to go in the evenings and at night. But we also know that every individual, their cases are looked at to find out why they are still in a hotel, and there’s always answers and reasons behind that.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Riversdale.

Ms. Chartier

Mr. Speaker, being housed in a hotel for seven months isn’t emergency shelter and it becomes someone’s home. And a hotel is not a home, Mr. Speaker.

We heard yesterday that Regina has the lowest vacancy rate in Canada, point six per cent. The average one-bedroom apartment in Regina costs $790 a month. Shelter allowance for a single, unemployable person is $459. Even if someone is eligible for the maximum rental supplement over and above this, this still puts them below the average one bedroom, if they can even find one, Mr. Speaker. While the core issue certainly is a lack of affordable rental units, the immediate issue is inadequate shelter allowances.

To the minister: both people, renters and taxpayers, are paying for the failure to address people’s pressing housing needs. When will the minister recognize shelter allowances fail to match the reality of today’s tight rental market?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, we know that the vacancy rates right now are about the same as they were last year at this time. And we know that there’s an increase in the number of people in this province, so we are managing to keep up or get ahead of that pace.

But, Mr. Speaker, we do know that there are people that are in shelters right now and there’s more work to be done. Some of the work that we’ve done in the last while is making sure that we have more affordable units on the market, more people that are buying into the idea of having the rental incentive program and affordable housing program. Right now we have 960 units that have been built since we became government; another 950 are on the way. Places like Regina have got applications for 900 rental incentive units.

Mr. Speaker, there’s more work to be done. We know that, but we feel confident that working with the communities and the developers right around the province, we can address this issue that is part of one of the great parts of about a booming province.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Riversdale.

Ms. Chartier

Just to recap, Mr. Speaker, so the vacancy rate is at point six per cent in Regina. The average one-bedroom apartment is $790 a month, shelter allowance for a single person is $459. Again, even if someone is eligible for the maximum rental supplement, this still puts him or her — their total housing allowance — $69 below the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment, if they can even find one.

The additional money that people pay to have a decent apartment comes out of their very limited living allowance, which means less food on the table or having to choose which prescription to fill.

To the minister: taking everything into account — the low vacancy rate, the fact that the shelter allowances are not enough — is she prepared to immediately increase the shelter allowances so people can find adequate and affordable housing now?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, knowing that people are living in a hotel or in a shelter isn’t something that anybody wants to hear about. But doing this is not something that happened because we became government. The same thing was happening under the NDP. The only difference is we increased the amount of money that we’ve given to people in shelters. We’ve increased the amount of shelter spaces there are, and we’re working on making sure that there are more units for people.

Mr. Speaker, we know that we can’t do those alone, and that’s why we have about 200 non-government organizations that are working with us to ensure that we have places, and not only is it a home but a support for people. Mr. Speaker, the community-based organizations are working with our government, and together we’re going to make a difference to everyone in this province.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Riversdale.

Ms. Chartier

Mr. Speaker, the government is currently paying for people to live in hotels. It costs about four times as much as they are willing to spend on shelter allowances. To the minister: she gave us some numbers, but how much is it costing us to house our citizens in hotels?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member opposite cares about this issue, as do all of us on this side of the House. That’s why we’re working extremely hard. That’s why we’ve got 5,700 units that are being prepared to be constructed in the next while. That’s why we’ve invested $309 million in housing.

Mr. Speaker, the vacancy rate that was talked about yesterday, there’s another part of it that makes everybody understand that there is work being done. They’re saying, "On the bright side," and I’m quoting from the Leader-Post today:

On the bright side, we’re seeing the market respond. On the condominium side, we’ve seen a two-fold increase (from 2010). We’ve also noticed an increase in rental-designated starts, not just in Regina but right across Saskatchewan.

That’s close to 3,000 multi-unit buildings we’ve built in this province, a 44 per cent increase from last year.

Mr. Speaker, we know that the shelter rates are something that have to be addressed, but in the long run we ought to make sure that there are affordable units for people, that there are places for people to go at night and to look at their individual needs. Mr. Speaker, we will continue to work with the people in the province to make sure they’re pleased to call Saskatchewan home.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Housing

Mr. Forbes

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Minister of Housing was unable to provide a good explanation to reporters between the difference between social housing and affordable housing. To the minister: does she now understand the difference, and is she able to explain it?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Yes, Mr. Speaker, there’s a number of people in this province who know all about affordable units and social units, and I’m one of them.

Mr. Speaker, the affordable units are 90 per cent of the average market rent and social is geared to income. But, Mr. Speaker, 95 per cent of the seniors’ units in this province are social housing units, and these are the kind of units that didn’t see increases that were talked about yesterday.

Mr. Speaker, we are building more units. That’s a part of our goal as the government is to make sure that there are units for people in the province. And not only that, we’ve indexed them through the cost of inflation seven times since we became government. Mr. Speaker, there is more work to be done, but when it comes to housing, our government puts this challenge at the front.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Mr. Speaker, to the hundreds if not thousands of people in affordable housing today, that’s cold comfort as they’re thinking about what to do. But here’s a quote from the minister’s scrum yesterday: "Right now we cannot have people staying in places that are below market value and just staying there."

To the minister: what is the purpose of affordable housing, if not to be below market value?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

We know that the affordable housing markets are 90 per cent of the average market rate. We know that. Social housing is geared to income.

But, Mr. Speaker, all of a sudden after being out of government for a number of years, the NDP now has a real concern about it. I wonder why they didn’t have a concern about it when they did not increase the benefits to seniors between 1992 and 2007, despite during that time having a 40 per cent increase in inflation. And the NDP did not increase shelter rates for 13 out of 16 of their years when they were in government, and at that time there was an inflation of over 30 per cent.

Mr. Speaker, during that time when they were in government it didn’t look important to them to increase the shelter rates. Mr. Speaker, we know as government we have to increase them. We did it seven times in the last four years. There’s more work to be done, and it’s something that’s part of our policy as government. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, this issue is very important to us.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Well, Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Housing was not only confused about social housing and affordable housing, she was also very confused about who’s eligible for the rental supplement. Today I ask the minister does she now understand the difference about who is eligible and who’s not? Can she explain this to the House?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, I’ve explained to the member opposite a number of times, and I’ll say it again. With social housing, the rent is geared to income and affordable housing, it’s 90 per cent of the average market rent. Mr. Speaker, that is the premise we’ve been working on. It hasn’t changed since they’ve become government. And we know that there are a number of units, like 10,500 senior units in this province that are under social housing. The rest of them are under affordable housing.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to affordability and what we are doing as government, we have decreased the number of people that are paying taxes by 114,000. We’ve decreased the debt. We’ve put money back into the pockets of people. Mr. Speaker, single, low-income seniors in our province right now have saved $1,200 per year in their pockets because of the taxes and the benefit changes. And if you’re a couple, it’s $2,000 per year. Mr. Speaker, there’s more work to be done. I know there is. But, Mr. Speaker, this is the work that we’re doing at this time.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Mr. Speaker, my question was specifically about the rent supplement and who is eligible for the rent supplement. Would she please answer the question

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

People that are eligible for the rent supplement are families, Mr. Speaker, or people with a disability are eligible for our rental housing supplement. I think the member opposite should know that. We have about 5,900 people right now that are benefitting from the supplement, and it’s something that we look at and we index. It wasn’t done under the previous government, and it’s the type of thing that we continue to look at. It’s an important part of our budgetary process as we go ahead.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday in the media scrum, the Minister of Housing was asked what is the advantage of Sask Housing if rents are going to simply keep pace with the market. The minister responded with this, and I quote: "Because there are still some that are going to be able to have the supplements as well."

To the minister: is it really her view that the advantage of Sask Housing, that people there can live there, can still receive supplements?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, I think again that the member opposite knows that in certain circumstances the rental supplements are available to people, Sask Housing tenants. For example, a single mother whose income fluctuates is often eligible for a top-up from both the rental supplement program and from the Saskatchewan employment supplement. Our income assistance divisions and housing authorities work together on these issues.

Mr. Speaker, I know that the members opposite would like to just talk about what happened yesterday. I’d like to talk about what their concern was a number of years ago when we had people who were living in homes that were not kept up. There was no investment into the affordable housing. In fact the last year that they were government, they built 58 units. In the first four years we were in government, we built 968 units, Mr. Speaker. Let’s talk about who cares about people who are needing help from our government.

[14:15]

: —

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. We’re very proud of the fact that we introduced the rent supplement. But the issue today is about the rents are increasing in Sask Housing. The tenants are very upset, so that’s where we’re focusing on this issue today. And that minister should be aware of it and not be talking about last year or the year before, or in the out years.

I just want to ask her a question though. The minister repeated several times yesterday that if the rent in the government’s affordable housing units is not close to rent in the private market, there would be no incentive for people to move out. To the minister: has she changed the mandate of Sask Housing, or is it still to provide safe and secure housing to those who cannot afford other options?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, the policies that we have in Sask Housing are ones that are always being reviewed because we’ve got to make sure that the homes we own as government, that the people of this province own, are geared to people who most need them, Mr. Speaker. And you know, what we are doing at the same time is making sure that people have more money in their pockets and making sure that people are in those housing units that belong to the government, if they have an opportunity to move forward because they’ve earned more money, let’s look at it, Mr. Speaker.

But at the same time, Mr. Speaker, I would think the members opposite should be pleased that our province is going ahead, that there are more people that are off the income tax rolls, that there are more people working, that our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in Canada. And together we are making sure that Saskatchewan is going ahead.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the minister was asked the following question, and I quote, "Where would you find a better deal than social housing?" Her answer was this: "Well if we raise the rents and the rent is higher than you can get in the private market, they probably would move out."

To the minister: is that the Sask Party’s plan, to raise rent in affordable housing units so it is higher than the rent in the private market?

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, I don’t know whether the member opposite is running out of questions or what he’s doing because right now what we’re talking about is making sure that it stays 90 per cent of the average rent. Mr. Speaker, that hasn’t changed.

But we also do know that there is more work to be done in this area. Mr. Speaker, we’re building affordable units, not just in Saskatoon and Regina and Prince Albert but right across the province. In fact our five point housing strategy talks about involving community partners, involving developers, involving builders, and making sure that right across a growing province there are units for people to be living in.

Mr. Speaker, I know the members opposite are focusing on affordability because they don’t believe that there’s a bright future in this province. In fact they probably are the only nine people left in the province who don’t because the rest of them are on this side of the House.

The Speaker

I recognize the member for Saskatoon Centre.

Mr. Forbes

Mr. Speaker, of course we’re focusing on affordability, and it is the right thing to do. People are talking about that right across the province. So forgive us if we’re doing our job asking about affordable issues.

Well, Mr. Speaker, it was abundantly clear that as of yesterday the Minister of Housing had no understanding about the purpose of Sask Housing’s affordable housing units and when she chose to increase the rents. To the minister: now that she’s got her head around this, about what affordable housing’s supposed to be, will she do the right thing and cancel the rent increases? Thank you.

The Speaker

I recognize the Minister of Social Services.

Hon. Ms. Draude

Mr. Speaker, out of the 10,500 senior units that are operated by Sask Housing, these are the social housing. None of these units are subject to increase. Out of the remaining, which is 3 per cent of the seniors’ units, they have an increase to their affordable housing. We’ve looked at why, what we can to do to make sure that it’s affordable. And, Mr. Speaker, I’ve told the member opposite that there’s another $1,200 in the pockets of single seniors and there’s $2,000 more in the pockets of couples. Mr. Speaker, the members opposite didn’t look at this issue when they were in government because they didn’t increase seniors’ income benefits between 1992 and 2007.

Mr. Speaker, what is it . . . the people that they have right now, their seniors are important to the people of this province, and making sure that we have double the seniors, the number of people on seniors’ income plan. And after this year’s election three times increased, they have tripled the amount of people under the seniors’ income plan, Mr. Speaker, three times of the amount of money under those people.

To be honest, I wasn’t really all that thrilled with either side of the debate which may be partly the nature of Question Period but still it gives you an idea of where the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP stand in the area of housing.

One Comment

  1. Hilary says:

    Oof, this just makes me furious. Thanks for providing this, I generally don’t read the Hansard but maybe I should (my sanity says I probably shouldn’t.)

    At least now I know when the SP starts blaming the NDP’s policies, it means that they haven’t thought of anything better. Between this and Harper’s comments on pensions/OAS, you guys must be having a lot of fun at work. If we can’t afford to increase the living allowance in “boom times”, what is going to happen during a slump? Not to mention paying for people to live in hotels instead of raising the allowance! I’ve been in affordable housing, and I can tell you that there is plenty of incentive to move out if or when you have a bit more money. This “lazy welfare bum” stereotype of people on assistance is harmful and disrespectful to the majority of people on assistance. OK, I should probably stop ranting about stuff you already know, since it’s only increasing my blood pressure.

Leave a Reply