YORKTON - Mayors from Saskatchewan’s cities are calling for a review of the province’s social housing program, specifically eligibility criteria, as thousands of affordable housing units sit vacant.
“Stable housing is a basic need,” Mayor Gerald Aalbers, Chair of SUMA’s City Mayors’ Caucus, said in a release. “There are individuals in need of adequate, affordable shelter in our communities, yet we have more than 3,000 affordable housing units sitting vacant throughout the province, some chronically vacant.”
Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley said the number of vacant houses was surprising.
“We didn’t even know that,” he said.
So are there houses sitting vacant in Yorkton?
“I don’t think we do in Yorkton,” said Hippsley, adding “I’d like to identify do we have house vacancies? “I’m led to believe we don’t.”
Hippsley said the city would be willing to help gather data but added housing is not a municipal responsibility, so it would have to be with the province taking a lead role.
“We want to help them, but we can’t download everything to the city . . . Our challenge would be to get them the information they need,” he said.
Hippsley said the issue of homelessness provincially does seem to be on the rise as rents go up and low income people simply don’t have the money to afford housing. He added the situation could get worse as the provincial government seeks to grow Saskatchewan’s population by 200,000 in the next five years, a growth that could require up to 100,000 new homes “to accommodate that growth.”
As a housing market tightens rents rise and that hurts low income people, noted Hippsley.
It’s a situation where some city mayors are receiving calls from people facing housing issues, said Hippsley.
“It seems to be ramping up. They’re getting more phone calls,” he said, adding personally “I’m not getting phone calls here.”
The City Mayors’ Caucus discussed the Social Housing Program at their meeting on June 24. Saskatchewan’s Social Housing Program, administered by local housing authorities on behalf of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, is designed to provide safe and adequate housing to families and seniors with low incomes and people with disabilities. Housing is available in approximately 270 communities across Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan’s city mayors are calling on the Ministry of Social Services and the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to review housing criteria, in partnership with municipalities, to ensure that the housing units are being appropriately used to improve housing stability.
“Mental health and addictions are a top concern for Saskatchewan’s city mayors and for all of Saskatchewan’s hometowns,” said Mayor Aalbers, who also serves as Vice-President of Cities for SUMA, in a release. “Ensuring that those in need of housing have access to adequate, affordable, and stable accommodations is a first step to helping address the mental health and addictions crisis that we face within our province.”