Tag Archives: City of Saskatoon

City of Saskatoon land branch sales fall by $100 million

This is bad news for the City of Saskatoon for a variety of reasons.  The one reason is that it provides funding for civic services and some of the profits were expected to pay of some of the growing city debt that our bridge building spree has cost us.

Long explained most of the land sale revenues go to paying Saskatoon Land expenses like servicing, marketing, land costs and administration.

However, since 2007 about $123 million from land sales has been redirected to pay for other civic initiatives, including another $4 million in the 2016 budget.

“There’s been a lot of benefits from the city being in the business of selling land,” Long said. “At the end of the day, it’s up to city council where the money goes.”

The other thing it means is that this is $100m less in development that is happening in Saskatoon.  I have heard from realtors, contractors, and increasingly laid off or under employed trades people that the boom is over and they are struggling.  Others are making plans to head back to British Columbia or Ontario.  The grass may have been greener in Saskatoon for a while but the fall of oils and the stagnant mining industry has taken it’s toll on a lot of people in Saskatoon.  This is just one of the many number of indicators that show us that things aren’t good right now in Saskatoon.

My 2016 Mayoral Campaign

I was asked a few times today if I was going to run for Mayor in 2016.  The answer is no.  I have no political aspirations and have no desire to be a politician.   That and I don’t like ties or suits.  Even if I did, big boned and balding politicians generally don’t do that well… wait a minute, we do really well in politics.

I have very little respect for career politicians.  There are many people I know (and we all have our lists) that desperately want to be elected to something and want to remain elected for financial, prestige, or even retirement reasons (I have heard of politicians whose entire retirement planning is based on getting elected and then government pension).  They see politics as a career and as a path to greater political power.  I don’t aspire to that.  I have control of the both the TV remote and the Apple TV remote at home.  I’m good.

I have a lot of respect for those that are public servants.  Those are people who are drawn to the service of their city, province, and country and that is the main motivating factor for them.  The problem is that most politicians start out that way but it’s a fine line until you transform into a politician where re-election comes before doing what is right.   Some public servants can be elected for decades and serve only the public.  I think of the Joe Clark’s, John Crosbie’s, or the countless MP, MLAs, and councillors that care far more about constituent issues and the big picture than party politics or personal gain.  They avoid the meanness that defines many politicians and they genuinely love their jobs.  I think they are great but I still wouldn’t want to be one.  I simply lack the desire to compromise on things and in our system, it is based on compromise and doing things you hate.

Then you also have the campaign fight.  That can’t be a lot of fun.  I remember door knocking a couple of decades ago and a guy came to the door with a shot gun, I was bit by a stray dog, and some naked women answered her door.  No wonder Atch stands on the streets and waves at cars.  Who can blame him?  If I was him I’d have a small portable fence with me at all times.  If someone from the media questioned me, I’d have them stand outside the fence and deal with the dogs.

I was out with some candidates and councillors years ago and they were talking about lawn sign stake storage and what a pain that is.  So let me get this straight, you win office and instead of celebrating, you have to clean out your shed and build extra storage for the stuff you need for the next campaign.  Wendy would not be pleased with that.  We have a small house, we don’t have a lot of storage.  She’d be out campaigning for Atch or Charlie Clark on the provision that they took all of the lawn sign stakes when I lost.

I’d be going, “How does the other campaigns get all of these leaks from?” and Wendy and Mark would be avoiding making eye contact with me as they easily moved stuff in and out of our shed.  Okay, that would be hilarious but still.

Also, the being recognized in public part is both good and bad.  Bad when someone tells me how stupid I am in front of my kids.  Good when they say nice things to me but I still find myself going, “please don’t punch me in the face” when someone goes, “Aren’t you Jordon Cooper?”.  Of course I could just be like one councillor who makes me go, “I thought they quit council” the rare time they speak. 

I guess I could run against Darren Hill but here is a list of his accomplishments in office and my position on them.

Darren Hill’s Record in Office

Jordon Cooper’s Position

Avenue B Diverter in Mayfair

Thought it was a good idea

Thought the Cosmo deal was a costly mistake

Totally

Disagrees with 33rd Street Bridge and says it would be built over his dead body.

We agree with that too although I hope no one has to die to stop it.

Wears colourful socks

Wears plain socks

Wears colourful ties

Has a tie just like Rob Ford’s NFL tie but has NHL logos on it.  Wishes he had a tie like Rob Ford’s NFL tie.  Would also wear a MLB tie.  Now that I think about it, that is a solid three tie rotation. 

Suggested that we wait a few years to buy a new city website when prices were lower.

Umm, yeah.

Tweets at celebrities

Does that actually work? (update: Darren says it does.)

Tweets at City Council Meetings

Tweets about confidential in-camera meetings that he read about in The StarPhoenix.

Ran for the federal Liberal Party after two terms as councillor.

Criticized Hill, Paulsen, Olauson, and Donauer for doing the same thing and not resigning their seat.

Non committal about in Council Twitter Wall.

Totally in favour of Twitter wall.   Really, really in favour of a Twitter wall.  Have I mentioned how badly I want City Council to have a live twitter wall. 

That would be a riveting debate.  I can see the moderator saying, “So the only area where you truly disagree is men’s socks.  Well let’s go back to that issue once more and Mr. Cooper, could you tell us where you got that NFL logo tie from?”

So after reading that chart over, I am not running in Ward 1 or anywhere else in the city since I live in Ward 1.  Darren is doing a fine job… well there was the vote where he voted to “right size the bridge” that was waste of tens of millions of dollars.   Nor do I ever aspire to being on Saskatoon City Council not now and not in the future.  Here is why.

Outside of Wendy and the boys, not many people have seen how sick I have been this summer.  It has scared Wendy and even made me wonder from time to time if I was going to make it.   I have never been so sick in my life and it hasn’t been fun.  Today my vital signs were so out of whack, the nurses freaked out and that happens all of the time.  There is no way I am strong enough to make it through a campaign even if I did want to.  I have never seriously considered it but I need get rid of the MRSA infection in my ankle and then get healthy again. 

I have been married with 18 years this week to Wendy and for the first time since we have been married, her depression and mental health issues are under control.  You have no idea how many times I have said, “next summer” will be better (well actually about 16 summers).  To actually have a summer trip go well and her depression be managed was a huge thing in life but we have a lot of catching up to do.

Those lost summers have come with a price of me being there for Wendy and not having the time to spend with Mark and Oliver.   It’s why next summer is being spent in the backcountry of Banff and Kootney National Parks.  The only door knocking I plan to do is at the door of a mountain tea house at the end of a long hike (I hope I don’t get bit by anything)

I don’t know how politicians handle their commitments to the public and family.   Is there a less family friendly job then being a politician at any level?  For this I am not being sarcastic, I can’t imagine how hard it is to juggle all of that well. I enjoy being a dad.

So my plans are set for election night 2016, vote and watch Monday Night Football while writing about those that did decide to run.  That is my goal for 2020, 2024, and 2028.  It is also my goal for any and all provincial and federal campaigns.  I have even a less of a desire to be told how to vote by a government or opposition whip who got the job because they are difficult to deal with in Question Period.

So yeah, I am never running for public office but thanks for suggesting it.  Throw your support behind someone that wants the job, there are some good ones out there, support them.

Government needs to work

The one thing that Bill Clinton has understood better than any American president is that government needs to work.  FEMA needs to be able to respond to emergencies, pension checks have to be delivered on time, and people need to be able to access services; whether it be housing or grants for small businesses.  Government had to work.

Over the last year the water pipe on the 1300 and 1400 blocks have broken about 10 times.  10 times without water, sometimes for over night or for all day.  Obviously something is wrong with that waterline but they keep patching the patches together.  Sometimes the patches would last for a couple of hours, other times the patches lasted long enough that they would actually patch the hole and repave it until they had to cut through the asphalt again.

The fact that the waterline is broken is not the problem.  That happens. The problem is that even with a scheduled repair (they cut the asphalt open two days ago) that the city won’t give any notice that your water is being turned of.  Once the water is turned off, it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days until the water truck arrives.

So with a household with kids in it, how does one flush a toilet?  How does one cook?  How does on bath or clean?

So the city knows it is going to repair a stretch of road, schedules a crew to come out, makes sure the backhoe is coming (they park the truck so it blocks my driveway each time… ignoring the abandoned lot beside me) and then goes to work and no one thinks, “we need a water truck there for that block”.

The 1300 block of Avenue D has gone over a week without water this winter.  A week without showers or laundry.  Eventually thanks to a suggestion Ward 1 Councillor Darren Hill, the city opened up city owned facilities for showers.  It was appreciated even if residents didn’t have access to laundry facilities.  It’s like no one at the city can go, “these families have gone a week without water.  What would I do in that situation?”

Last week my water shut off during my morning shower.  No one knocked on my door or let us know.  I was kind of caught of guard because the repair was in a different part than the block and I missed the digging.   Since then I walk out my front door in the morning and check both ways for construction crews before taking a shower.

This week they showed up, left a drinking water advisory on my door (even though we had no water), dug up the street and then went for lunch.  Just what I want to see when I can’t flush a toilet, City of Saskatoon workers taking a long break (yes I know they deserve a break but what about a staggered break so that would can continue?)

At the end of all of these watermain breaks over the last five years I have realized that our city doesn’t have the organizational capacity to get men and equipment to a job site at the same time, let alone get a needed and emergency source of water to a site; despite the repair being scheduled.  We also don’t have the technical capacity to fix a seldom travelled roadway properly.

So what is the reason?  Some say a bias against the westside.  I tend to wonder if we are hiring competent managers in Public Works and if we aren’t, what is the problem and how do we fix it as a city.  This isn’t a manpower issue.  It’s a customer service issue (and apparently an engineering one).

For those of you who suggest calling Public Works, in 15 years of calling that department has left me jaded from the lies.  People I talk to just make things up.  My favorite was calling about a water truck.  Wendy was assured it was on route to the location.  It never arrived for another 8 hours.  I was told that there was supposed to be flyers delivered about the repair today (and I assume about the repair last week).  There were none.

Since we can’t coordinate men, equipment, and water to a job site at the same time, I don’t think we are going to be able to solve this one.

Government needs to work.  Someone needs to fix it when it doesn’t.  Sadly no one seems that interested in doing that.

Protecting the Brand

I love this column by Gerry Klein.

The province now hires an army of communications consultants and flacks – many of whom were at one time colleagues of mine – to make sure its message stays on track. These ranks far exceed the number of journalists whose job it is to give the public a balanced view of how their institutions work.

Concern about branding has these hired guns twisting themselves in knots to make sure the message the media gets conforms to an artificial identity they have created for these public institutions.

The City of Saskatoon has also fallen into this trap. For many years I reported on civic affairs along with Art Robinson. We would routinely roam the offices at city hall, visiting all from the senior administration to the cubicles of engineers, and these committed public servants would speak openly and freely about what they were doing, including explaining errors and prescribing corrections.

Former city commissioner Marty Irwin recently reminded me that the reason the administration had no concern about our impromptu visits was it had confidence in the quality, intelligence and dedication of civic employees, even if they may have wished at times we didn’t ask the questions.

Today, civic employees are restricted from talking to reporters unless they have undergone media training – that is, lessons in how to spin the message to protect the brand. Reporters are asked not to approach staff directly but to vet their inquiries through the communications office.

This strategy, by the way, is doomed to failure. Rather than protecting the brand, these public institutions are shrouding it in cynicism and suspicion. 

SafeBus This Halloween

Hopefully this isn’t needed but a great idea from the City of Saskatoon

This Halloween, parents are reminded to tell their little trick or treaters that Saskatoon Transit’s SafeBus Program is there to help if they are in trouble. Children can get on a bus at any bus stop if they are lost, cold, frightened, hurt, or in trouble. Transit operators have direct 911 access to call for assistance.

Children asking for help do not need money to get on a SafeBus. To get an approaching bus operator’s attention, children in need of assistance should stand on the sidewalk and hold their hand up as the bus approaches. The operator will recognize this as a sign of distress and stop to help. The City reminds all parents to tell their children to never step onto the roadway to flag down a bus as this is very dangerous.

The SafeBus Program is part of the City of Saskatoon’s ongoing commitment to improving the safety of citizens and enhancing the quality of life in Saskatoon.

Property Tax Ratio Debate

Some thoughts from Charlie Clark on Saskatoon’s property tax ratio and why he is against changing it.

While the ink is barely dry on the Flat Tax debate – we are back into a discussion on taxation with the Administration’s proposal to further reduce the amount that businesses pay in tax in comparison to homeowners by shifting the tax burden from one to another. The proposal is to move our ‘tax ratio’ (the amount of tax a commercial entity pays compared to a residential property) from 1.75 to 1.43.

In real terms – moving from a 1.75 to a 1.43 tax ratio would means reducing business taxes by $6.9 million/year and adding them on to homeowner’s taxes. I have certainly not been getting the message lately that homeowners are enthusiastic about tax increases – especially if there is nothing tangible to show for the increase. $6.9million is about 2/3 of our road maintenance budget, 3x our street sweeping budget, or 3/4 of our snow clearing budget.

I frankly remain a bit dumbfounded as to how this debate has gotten this far at this time in Saskatoon. A quick survey of other provinces and municipalities shows that we are already way on the low end of the spectrum with this 1.75 ratio. Calgary’s ratio is 4.09, Edmonton’s ratio is 3.01, Vancouver’s ratio is 4.84, Victoria’s ratio is 3.66 and Banff’s ratio is 6.0! On top of this as I have pointed out before, Saskatoon has been rated the most tax-competitive Municipality in the country to do business, most recently by a 2012 KPMG report.

It is very important that we do what we can to build a strong City that has the conditions for businesses to succeed. As I travel the City the main concerns I am hearing from people in the business community have to do with the condition of our roads, growing traffic congestion, and other infrastructure challenges.

City Council has been struggling to find the means to pay for the costs of getting our roads back into shape – and providing better basic services such as street sweeping, lane maintenance, water main repair, snow clearing – all services that reflect on the City and affect businesses ability to operate. At this point we are doing well on the tax-competitiveness front – we need to ensure that we build a City that has a good quality of life and good services that attract talent and companies to set up and expand here. Raising taxes on home-owners without adding more services only eats into our ability to raise revenues that we need to deal with the challenges of a growing City. The cost/benefit analysis on this one is completely unpersuasive and I will be voting against.

Its weird.  You listen to Calgary and Edmonton’s business community and while taxes are a factor, they are well down on their list of priorities of things they want the city to do.  Even Regina has looked at our (lower) tax rate and yawned.  It’s not what attracts businesses to cities and almost every urbanist, economist, and politician outside of the City of Saskatoon agrees with that.  Glad to see Coun. Clark take a stand on this issue.

The Saskatoon Advantage

So after watching the videos about Detroit, Edmonton, and Calgary, I give you the first video about Saskatoon that I found on YouTube that was published by one of our own agencies.

Yes, the number one video by the City of Saskatoon is not about how awesome Saskatoon is, it is about the worst part of Saskatoon and how we don’t remove snow from residential streets.  Well done Saskatoon.  Of course SREDA has created Living Saskatoon but take a look at the videos, oh wait, there are none.  Just text, one photo, and some links.   It is like we aren’t even trying.

In Edmonton’s white paper on how to build a more prosperous city, taxes were important but even more important was the creating and the sharing of the Edmonton brand to attract top people and businesses to Edmonton.  Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi talks about the same thing and the need to attract top talent to Calgary and they will create more jobs and wealth.  It was actually something that Regina’s Pat Fiacco did quite well for them.  While Saskatoon’s video about snow removal talks about how hard it is to live here, Edmonton is talking about how it makes them stronger and more competitive.

Saskatoon on the other hand hasn’t quite got it yet.  We still think that if there are jobs, people will come but there are jobs in Alberta, Manitoba, and British Columbia as well.  People are making money in Regina, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw and yes, that is the competition.

Saskatoon is home to Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (who is having a bad day today but they’ll bounce back), Cameco (bad last couple of quarters) and we hope they bounce back, BHP Billiton’s Canadian head office, a vibrant downtown, and a lot of outside investment by developers like Lefevbre & Company (you have to look at their website right now, don’t worry, I’ll wait), and success stories that are home grown.  You can make money in Saskatoon and have a great quality of life.

Of course we need to start to realize that a) we need to compete with other cities and b) we can compete with other cities (and win).  That being said, we need to put on a better first impression than a video about snow removal.

Of course here is one of Regina’s efforts.

Maybe no video is better than that video.

A “Perfect Storm” of Infrastructure Failure

Here is a PowerPoint presentation that was given at a conference back in October on Saskatoon’s growing infrastructure deficit by Saskatoon Finance manager Kerry Tarasoff.  As you can read from the report, Saskatoon is underfunding its critical infrastructure every year until we are at a point that one slide describes as a “perfect storm” where we have aging under maintained infrastructure and needs for massive capital investment in Saskatoon’s growth.  I am trying to figure out how a “perfect storm” is used as a positive thing…

Of course don’t take her words for it, take a look at the committee notes to the Administration and Finance Committee and read the part about bridges and roads.  Bridges need an increase of $4.5 million dollars a year (we pay $500k right now) and roads need around $25 million a year.

At the current level of funding, bridges start to collapse in the next two decades and if the City of Saskatoon knows one thing, it is bridge failure.  According to the report under current funding levels.

Under this option, the current annual base contribution to the Major Bridge Repair Reserve of $520,000 per year would be maintained. This level of service is insufficient
to accommodate the 20-year major preservation plan. Structures will need to be closed as deck failures occur, with major closures projected as follows:

  • Idylwyld Drive Over Ruth Street Overpass (2025);
  • Idylwyld Drive Northbound/Southbound Over 19th Street Overpass (2025);
  • Spadina Crescent Bridge (2029);
  • Circle Drive Northbound Over 14th Street Overpass (2029);
  • 108th Street Over Circle Drive Overpass (2030);
  • Idylwyld Drive Northbound Over 19th Street to 1st Avenue Overpass (2030);
  • University Bridge (2031); and
  • Sid Buckwold Bridge (2032).

Full deck replacements would be required before these structures could be reopened. The estimated cost of necessary deck replacements for these structures is estimated to be $151.4 million. This value does not include additional work required to the remainder of the bridge inventory.

The city administration is asking for involves both fixing and taking proactive maintenance to save us money down the line.  To start with, we need to start investing $5 million dollars a year (up from the current $500k a year) to our bridge infrastructure fund.  According to the report

Under this option, the 20-year major preservation program, recommended in the State of the Bridges and Structures 2012 Report, would be followed. The current annual contribution to the Major Bridge Repair Reserve would increase, however, a mix of onetime contributions and borrowing would be required to make up the budget shortfall to ensure that the reserve does not go into a deficit position at any time. If the annual contribution were to be increased to $5 million in 2013, with an annual increase equal to annual inflation, one-time contributions would be required to support the following anticipated additional spending:

  • $19.2 million in 2013;
  • $7.8 million in 2018; and
  • $20.9 million in 2023.

So now lets move onto roads

Option 1 – Status Quo (Level of Service “E”)

This option would keep the annual investment in paved roadways at the same level as in 2012, which was $9.5 million. The current backlog will grow and the overall condition of the network will deteriorate. The 2012 funding was made of $6.0 million of base funding from General Reserves and $3.5 million of one-time Neighbourhood Land Development funding.

Notice that the current funding level means that our roads will get worse.

Option 2 – Maintain Assets in Very Poor Condition (Level of Service “D”)

This option would require an annual investment of $15 million. The streets in the worst condition would be given a higher treatment priority than in Option 1. Annual investment opportunities will be missed, as some roadways will still degrade from the “Preservation” to “Restoration” category; and from the “Restoration” to the “Rehabilitation” category. As they move through each category, treatments become more costly, with rehabilitation being the most expensive.

I love the fact that we need a massive increase in investment to get our roads to “Very Poor Condition”.

Option 3 – Maintain the Current Backlog (Level of Service “C”)

This option would require an annual investment of $20 million. The current backlog and network condition will remain as at the end of 2012.

Again, the status quo to keep our roads the way they are would require double the investment that we fund now.

Option 4 – Improve Average Condition and Eliminate Backlog in the Future (Level of Service “B”)

This option would require an annual investment of $25 million. The average condition of the roadway network will be better than it is today, and the backlog will be reduced. A level of service “A” is ideal for all assets, as it is the least long term cost to the City. However, it will take several years to eliminate the backlog of very poor streets, and until that occurs, it is not achievable. Funding this level of service would also require a significant increase that would be difficult to achieve.

The City of Edmonton was able to significantly increase their roadway funding in 2008, with the introduction of the Neighbourhood Renewal Program, a dedicated and permanent tax levy for roads, sidewalks and street lights. In addition, Edmonton receives more provincial funding than Saskatoon, they utilize local improvement programs, and they pay approximately three times more per capita in taxation for roads than in Saskatoon. For example, in 2011, the average Edmonton household paid approximately $22 per month for roadways, while in Saskatoon, the average household paid approximately $6 per month. This value was calculated using 2011 roadway funding for each city, divided by the estimated number of households. In 2012, Edmonton’s tax increased by 5.39%, and 72% of the increase was dedicated to their Neighbourhood Renewal Program.

It is the Administration’s opinion that Option 4 is the desirable level of service target. This option will result in an improvement of the average condition of the roadway network and a reduction to the roadway backlog. If immediately achieved, Option 4 would result in an increase of $15.529 million in investment above the allocated 2012 roadway preservation budget.

The treatment of paved roadways is funded from the Infrastructure Surface Reserve with the following capital projects:

  • 0835 – Collector Road Preservation;
  • 0836 – Arterial Road Preservation;
  • 1531 – Local Road Preservation;
  • 1890 – Expressway Road Preservation; and
  • 2249 – Street Reconstruction.

The Infrastructure Surface Reserve is 100% mill rate funded, and includes additional capital projects for transportation, sidewalks, curbs, and back lanes.  The Administration is recommending that the Committee forward this report to City Council, recommending that the level of service target for the preservation of roadways be established as Level ‘B’, with an annual investment of $25 million.

So we need around $25 million for roads and at least $5 million more for bridges each year.  The police said last year that they will be back for more officers, leisure services needs more money, and that doesn’t even touch the bad job that we with snow removal.

Of course before we get complaining how much taxes that this will cost us, we need to remember how low our mill rate is compared to all other cities in Canada.  The idea that we are overtaxed is a myth.  We pay less in school and property taxes than many municipalities pay in just property taxes so we have some room to grow before we are uncompetitive with other jurisdictions.

What strikes me as interesting is that while the roads and bridges reports came out after the election, the Mayor and council were using some of these numbers before the campaign.  The “natural advantage” of incumbency I guess. 

It’s still theft, even when the City of Saskatoon does it

I was researching something for a future column today and I went looking for a RFP regarding Kinsmen Park.  As I opened the PDF, I was impressed with the photo that made up the front cover of it.

Kinsmen Park & Area Master Plan RFP

  The reason I was impressed with the photograph is that it has been a long time favorite photo…. ever since I took it back in 2003.

The photo of a balloon that the City of Saskatoon "borrowed"

The photo is licenced under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons License.  The last time I checked, a RFP for the City of Saskatoon is a commercial endeavour and there was no attribution.  Some of the other photos used in the RFP were flat out copyrighted.

Now if I had been asked, I would have given the City permission.  I get between 30 and 50 requests to use my photos a year from everyone from the British Columbia government, a band in Japan, the Department of National Defense, to the Government of Canada’s Tourism Commission and I say yes to all of them.   Today I don’t feel so charitable, especially when I when I see that the RFP was actually sponsored and paid for by PotashCorp and apparently subsidized by a stolen image of mine.

Opening up Saskatoon’s Archives

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for last night but I ended up at the Saskatoon Public Library’s database of archival images.  I checked out some old historic collections from Saskatoon’s past but I have to admit that it wasn’t the easiest to use, it was slow, you can’t save any images, and it is obsolete technology when you compare it to many of the collections in Flickr’s Commons.

For those of you who have been out of the loop for a while, The Commons are a series of institutions that upload photos that they own the copyright to or are in the public domain to Flickr where users can take, describe, and fill out the history regarding.  Since the photos are in the public domain (or licensed with some restrictions under Creative Commons), they can be easily viewed (or used by the masses).  Many of the participating organizations upload 50-200 photos at a time and then allow people to tag, leave comments, and fill out historical details on all of them.

As Flickr says, the goals are to:

  1. To increase access to publicly-held photography collections, and
  2. To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge. (Then watch what happens when they do!)

I am picking on the Saskatoon Public Library but the same could be said for the City of Saskatoon archives,  University of Saskatchewan’s archives, the The StarPhoenix photo archives (they could also take down the paywall on their archives while they are at it), the Diefenbaker Centre photographic collection or even the Western Development Museum’s archives.  They are all owners of vast amount of archival photos that would be best served being served up electronically, even if small increments. 

I was noticing on the Saskatoon Public Library database that they own the copyright to quite a few images historical I was checking out.  I am assuming that they took over the copyright when the original owner donated the originals to the archives but that can be released and licensed and released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License for non-profit or private use.  There are some images that are still held by families or companies and of course those copyrights will need to be respected but for those images that are in the public domain, release them and make them easily available to the public.  All of Saskatoon would benefit.

Affordable Housing Initiatives in Saskatoon

This came from City Councilor’s Pat Lorje’s email on what’s happening at City Council

Affordable Housing Initiatives- Just two years ago, Council took $5 million from the Affordable Housing Reserve, and dedicated it to jump-starting purpose-built rental housing. The idea was to pay developers, who have hardly built any rental accommodation in this city for years and years, the princely sum of $5000 per new rental unit as long as the property remains rental housing for at least 15 years. This is one way to combat the unfortunate trend we saw in 2008 of almost every apartment block being bought up by investors and converted to condominiums and then put back on the rental market (which of course led to an increase in rental rates). The goal was to get 1000 new purpose-built rental units. This program has been very successful. In two short years, over 550 units have been built, and more are planned. By next fall, we should have reached almost 85% of our goal. This is an unprecedented rental housing development achievement in all of Canada, and supplements our other Affordable Housing Initiatives. You can read more about them in the file attached to this email or you can call me and we can talk about all the things the city is doing to ensure that people have decent and affordable shelter. We still need to do more, and there is always a concern about homelessness, but I am proud that Saskatoon has recognized in a very tangible way that substandard housing affects us all in one way or another.

Councilor Lorje also attached this PDF which outlines what the City of Saskatoon is doing in the area of affordable housing (which I can’t find on the City of Saskatoon website).

Affordable Housing Information Sheet 2010

It points out that there is also a 5 year property tax abatement which is significant as well.  According to CMHC, it looks like it did increase vacancy.

image Despite that, rent went up.  Again from the CMHC

The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment will rise to $925 in the October 2010 rental market survey, a $20 increase in the average monthly rent compared to the 2009 survey.  This is considerably lower than the rent increase recorded between 2008 and 2009, when average monthly rent increased by $64.  Rent increases have slowed to remove the incentive for tenants to move to homeownership. In 2009, rents increased while resale prices have lessened, causing the difference in monthly expenditures between renting and home ownership to become smaller. Hence, property owners will reduce the pace of rent increases compared to recent years in an effort to curb this trend.  Additionally, property owners will moderate the pace of rent increases in order to restrain costly tenant turnovers in the face of higher vacancy rates across metro.

The Saskatoon average rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment was $843 per month for April 2010 — a jump of $53 per month from 2009, according to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

So in the end, vacancy rates went up by a little over 1% which is good.  It sounds insignificant but in city the size of Saskatoon, that is a fair amount more apartments on the market.  The not so good part is that rent kept going up in Saskatoon.  Several friends talk about $100 increases for January 1st which isn’t fun but it is what it is.  Of course the question that needs to be asked is if the 550 rental units made a difference in keeping a $100 rental increase down from $150 or $200.  I think the answer is yes.  Unfortunately, According to SHIP, Saskatchewan’s average wage growth has not kept pace with increasing rents in Saskatoon. For example, while the rent for a two-bedroom suite has increased 33% (from $346.50 to $462.50 per person, based on 2 persons per unit), wage growth within the five lowest paid industry sectors in Saskatchewan only increased 3.5 percent.

Still 550 new rental units on the market makes a difference.