Broad support for Saskatoon's affordable housing plan, but landlord group offers warning

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark discusses how Saskatoon will distribute money from Ottawa's housing accelerator fund. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark discusses how Saskatoon will distribute money from Ottawa's housing accelerator fund. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)

An affordable housing program with faults is better than no program at all, a city hall committee heard while discussing how Saskatoon will distribute $41.3 million from Ottawa's housing accelerator fund.

"No funding formula is perfect. We'll take what we can get," said Angela Bishop, board chair of the Camponi Housing Corporation, a Métis-led non-profit.

Bishop told the committee Camponi has a shovel-ready project waiting for funding and more than 300 families on the wait-list for affordable housing.

On Wednesday, the city's planning and development committee voted in favour of the proposed plan. It now needs final approval at a future city council meeting.

The plan allocates $35 million for incentive programs, split between the city's own Innovative Housing Incentives policy, multi-unit dwellings in the downtown and corridor growth areas, and housing developments on city-owned land.

Camponi's Blairmore project on Hart Road is planned to have more than 150 affordable housing units. The project is zoned and shovel-ready, but rising construction costs halted progress. Bishop said getting a portion of the accelerator funding will help Camponi leverage funds from other levels of government so the project can proceed.

Mayor Charlie Clark said at committee that the plan's rapid rollout was necessary to get money flowing to organizations soon enough to avoid missing a construction season.

"We're hearing that this has the potential to really make a difference in our ability to get that badly needed housing out there," Clark said. "We need to get as many of the options out there as possible as quickly as we can."

The average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Saskatoon increased to $1,215 in April, an 8.4 per cent increase from the same month last year, according to a new report from Average rent for a two-bedroom increased to $1,417, up 14.8 per cent from the same month in 2023.

Proposed incentive policies could scare off developers: landlord assoc.

One part of the plan offers a grant of up to $27,000 per new affordable unit and a five-year tax abatement. There is also a stipulation that organizations and businesses that get funding sign a 20-year affordability agreement to keep rents below market value, while still allowing for some rent increases based on current standards of affordability.

That stipulation could scare off potential partners, said Saskatchewan Landlord Association CEO Cameron Choquette at the meeting.

"Providers don't want to be saddled with 20-year rent control agreements," Choquette said.

He asked the committee to consider 10-year agreements. The committee did not make any amendments before moving the plan to city council for approval.

Camponi Housing Corp. plans to build more than 150 affordable housing units at its Hart Road project in Blairmore. (Camponi Housing Corporation)

Housing advocates aren't convinced landlords will stick to affordable rates without multi-decade agreements. Métis Nation-Saskatchewan acting director of programs and services Jason Mercredi told committee members long-term agreements are necessary.

"We're seeing a transition from low-income to market rate rentals because there's also a housing shortage in this city, so you'll be able to fill those units regardless and you'll charge more," he said. "There is less incentive for the sector to charge low-income rental rates unless it's tied to funding agreements with 10, 20, 30-year outcomes."

Ottawa's Housing Accelerator Fund will distribute $4 billion to communities until 2027, with the goal of adding at least 100,000 units of affordable housing across Canada.

Saskatoon defines affordable housing as "units that are affordable to low-income households with incomes below the Saskatchewan Household Income Maximums while spending no more than 30 per cent of their income on housing."

The income maximums range from $38,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $66,500 for a four-bedroom (with top-ups for people with disabilities).