Saskatoon city council votes to rezone for greater housing density and secure federal funding

After two long days of deliberations, Saskatoon city council approved zoning amendments needed to qualify for $41 million from Ottawa's affordable housing fund.

City councillors voted to approve a raft of zoning amendments that align city bylaws with criteria for the federal Housing Accelerator Fund. The votes were not all unanimous.

The zoning changes will allow fourplexes in residential areas across the city and permit four-storey developments along transit corridors.

Mayor Charlie Clark urged councillors Friday to approve the changes. He said the process isn't perfect, but the end result will help a lot of people.

"This housing accelerator fund has probably been one of the biggest tests of leadership," Clark said. "We have a housing and supply crisis, an affordability crisis and inflation crisis. And as we see on our streets, a homelessness crisis. We have had unprecedented record population growth in the last couple of years."

Of the $41 million in federal funding, the city plans to allocate $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.

The mayor of Saskatoon Charlie Clark discusses the housing accelerator fund.
The mayor of Saskatoon Charlie Clark discusses the housing accelerator fund. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

The city wants to target the "missing middle" of the housing continuum, essentially creating a greater mix of affordable housing types.

Saskatoon's census metropolitan area grew by 16,161 people in the last year, according to a recent Statistics Canada report. In order to accommodate that growth, the city says more than 5,000 homes are needed — but only less than half of that number have been built, mostly in relatively expensive housing.

On Thursday, the first day of deliberations, nearly 50 concerned citizens lined up to speak to councillors. This pushed the meeting into the late evening and delayed the vote a day.

The meeting reconvened Friday morning with councillors peppering city staff about the funding deal with Ottawa and implications for rejecting the zoning changes.

Councillor Darren Hill voted against the rezoning because of the timing. He said the city should take more time to consult the public.

"I'm not saying that this current proposal is right or wrong," Hill said on Friday. "I'm saying it has a community divided and we have a responsibility as this council to try to bridge that divide as best as possible. Passing this today is not going to bridge that divide."

Coun. Randy Donauer also opposed the rezoning amendments. He said it's unfair for Ottawa to hold Saskatoon to the same funding criteria as Toronto.

"If the federal government has money for homelessness and affordable housing they should distribute it," Donauer said. "It's regrettable the federal government is holding us hostage and bullying municipalities by having funding tied to the zoning changes."

The rezoning allows four units on most lots that are at least 15 metres (50 feet) wide in the city as a default. Presently, most lots are occupied by single-family homes, but are allowed to have a duplex or semi-detached home on them. This effectively doubles what's allowed on many lots, from two units to four.

These could be row-style houses, or they could be stacked with two units on the bottom and two on top, or they could be small apartments with two homes at the front and two in the back.

Another zoning amendment will allow four-storey apartment or condo developments within 800 metres of the city's new transit corridors. The Bus Rapid Transit plan will revamp the city's transit system with high-frequency buses along main routes, and routes in smaller neighbourhoods feeding into those routes.

Coun. Hilary Gough welcomed the zoning changes to help combat the city's housing crisis.

"We heard yesterday from somebody who said that their bedroom – a single bedroom – is being rented for $700 or $800 and that somebody offered them $1,000 a month for a bedroom sight unseen in our community," Gough said.

"That is absolutely unsustainable. So we need to shift how we're growing and we do need to accelerate the growth of our housing."