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What is affordable?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about affordable housing in Saskatchewan.


There has been a lot of talk in recent years about affordable housing in Saskatchewan. Since the boom of 2007, when property values skyrocketed, and we were suddenly in the middle of a housing shortage, talk of building "affordable housing" has even reached the city of Humboldt.
But what is perhaps considered an "affordable" price tag in other parts of the world can still be out of people's reach here, because wages have not increased along with the price tag of housing.
And we're going to see more and more problems in the housing sector - rental and otherwise - unless this disconnect is corrected somehow. It's happened in other places. I can't see why it wouldn't happen here.
When you take a look at real estate for sale in Humboldt right now, it's clear that affordable housing options are needed. As of the writing of this editorial, there were 51 homes for sale on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in the city of Humboldt. The lowest-priced property was $67,000 - and it was an empty lot. Of the 51, there were 24 properties for under $200,000, and three of those were empty lots. The lowest-priced home was $89,900. Four years ago, I remember seeing many homes priced for under $50,000 - homes that would sell for over twice that amount today.
That was, for many, affordable housing.
But those times have gone. Now, when people talk about new "affordable housing projects," the price of those homes hover around $200,000.
Is $200,000 our new idea of affordable?
Perhaps, with the right incentives, that price tag could be made to fit into some people's budgets.
But what about those who earn minimum wage, or near to it? There's a good portion of the population of this city who fit into that category. What about them? Can they ever dream of owning a home?
Someone who works full time at minimum wage (in Saskatchewan, it's $9.25 per hour) will bring home around $1,480 per month before taxes. That's not a lot, especially when considering all the costs associated with owning a home. Buying a home through normal channels that's $200,000 is simply out of reach - someone earning that amount would struggle to even put together the five per cent down payment on such a property, or even one that cost a lot less.
Owning a home, even one that costs under $100,000, is out of reach, in fact, for many others who earn above minimum wage who have to shoulder the costs of their living arrangements on their own, or who have children to support.
Housing prices are unlikely to come down. Will wages then go up? For anything above minimum wage, the responsibility for doing so lies with employers. But has business here improved in concert with housing prices? Can they afford to raise their wages? Right now, they may not be able to, but before long, they may have to, if only just to fill open positions. For it's hard to attract new employees when you can't pay them a wage that will allow them to buy a home, or even rent one in some cases, in the area.
A new housing task force has been struck by Humboldt City Council, and they will be wrestling with this issue in the coming months. It will be interesting to see what kind of solutions they come up with, and what, in the end, is now considered "affordable" housing.