REGINA - The opposition New Democrats resumed their attacks on the Sask Party government this week on the issue of the more than 3000 Sask Housing units sitting vacant in the province.
At a news conference at the legislature Tuesday, the party’s Social Services Critic Meara Conway pointed to figures obtained from audited statements and from Freedom of Information requests. According to the party, it showed supports for Sask Housing had been cut for over a decade.
It was noted that $590 million in Sask Housing units are sitting vacant, while over $194 million was lost on these empty units including $33 million in spending on utilities, $22 million in grants in lieu of taxes paid for these empty units, and foregone rent revenues.
The Opposition’s figures released to the media also pointed to an overall reduction of $483 million on provincial funding to the housing portfolio between 2011 and 2022 compared to the 2010-11 provincial contribution average. The party also claims that had the province maintained 2011 levels over the past decade, instead of investing $177.5 million the province's investment would have been $762 million -- a difference of over $584 million.
“Documents obtained through the FOI process, as well as a review of financially audited statements of SHC, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation audit reports, show that over the better part of a decade the Sask Party government has quietly, dramatically cut supports for Sask Housing units,” said Conway. “As a result, $596 million worth of Saskatchewan housing units are lying vacant sitting empty in this province today.”
Conway said the “level of incompetence, waste and neglect on the part of the SaskParty government is truly stunning. People keep saying ‘what’s happening in our communities?’ The deteriorating social and economic situation is visible. The steep rise in homelessness is chilling. And the impacts go beyond those directly affected.”
Conway also noted the opposition was being “charitable” and giving the government the benefit of the doubt with these numbers. When entering in “rising construction costs, inflation, the situation gets very bad, very fast.”
According to 2022 numbers, there are 3,161 vacant Sask Housing units in the entire province, out of a possible 17,509 rentable units. The largest number of vacancies is in Regina with just under 700.
Previously, Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky had told reporters at the Legislature that the reasons for the vacancies had to do with units needing renovations due to floods, vandalism or other issues. In April Makowsky had pointed out “several of the units are being renovated, and they are being worked on to have them ready for folks to be able to inhabit those.”
Conway countered Tuesday saying it was the Sask Party government that had “cut funding to the renovation funding year after year” and “let affordable housing units get run into the ground.”
“This is a problem manufactured from the Sask Party government.”
The issue of Sask Housing vacant units continues to be a hot one, mainly due to growing concerns over the issue of homelessness in the province. Municipal leaders have publicly expressed frustration over the number of SaskHousing vacant units, which they contend could have been made available to address homelessness and other social issues in their communities.
Last year the City Mayor’s Caucus called for a review of the province’s social housing program, citing the over 3,000 vacancies at Sask Housing. On a related note, they have also called for changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support program over claims the program in its current form has made the situation worse.
The opposition’s latest announcements on the housing issue came just one day before Regina city council was set to discuss a motion on whether to declare a homelessness emergency in the city. A notice of motion signed by four city councillors was brought to the last council meeting on the issue, and that motion is on the agenda for Wednesday afternoon with several delegations scheduled to speak to it.
On the concerns expressed at the municipal level, Conway said “I will certainly be providing the information I have gleaned from going through the file to municipal partners across the province, so that they’re fully informed on how the province has dealt with the social housing portfolio over the last decade… municipal stakeholders have been sounding the alarm about this for some time now.”
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