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Empty Sask Housing units still an issue at the Leg

Daily Leg Update - 3,000 empty Sask Housing units, concerns with SIS program still hot topics at Legislature
Minister Gene Makowsky and Critic Meara Conway spoke to reporters Thursday on the issue of empty Sask Housing units.

REGINA - The issue of empty Sask Housing units across Saskatchewan was back at the legislature again Thursday.

The government was again having to answer questions about the housing situation and the homelessness situation in general in the province, fresh on the heels of last week’s Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention where homelessness and the Saskatchewan Income Support program were major concerns.

In Question Period, Opposition Social Services Critic Meara Conway pointed to over 3,000 publicly owned units sitting vacant. She also made the point that the number of vacant units has actually gone up in her questions to Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky.

Ms. Conway: — “… We learned at committee last week that 129 units are vacant in Prince Albert, 282 in Saskatoon, and more than 693 units right here in Regina where we know homelessness has skyrocketed, Mr. Speaker. Those homes are supposed to be providing a safe, affordable house to Saskatchewan people during a cost-of-living crisis, not sitting vacant, not falling apart, not blowing up, Mr. Speaker. How does this make any sense to that minister?”

Hon. Mr. Makowsky: — “Mr. Speaker, our government is working very hard to repair those units that are potentially available. We’re going to spend about $73 million on maintenance and improvement. We’ve worked hard in the past to be able to increase the availability, Mr. Speaker. I hope the member is not suggesting we move people in to a unit that’s not ready, that has foundation issues or had just recently been flooded, Mr. Speaker.”

Makowsky also pointed to other things done including looking to expand a pilot project that we have for vacant units here in Regina with set rates for affordability, and continuing to work with third parties for supportive living, pointing to partnerships in Regina with Phoenix Residential, Silver Sage, and the YWCA.

In speaking to reporters about the vacancy situation, Makowsky said many of the vacant units were under renovation, whether due to floods, vandalism, or whatever the case may be.

“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. So we have those right across the province, in very small communities, in large communities. A lot of the vacancies are in rural Saskatchewan, and so we’re just not seeing the demand and the uptake for social housing in a lot of communities.”

He noted they had increased the asset limits to be able to qualify for social housing, and also a few years ago reduced the age for seniors housing. Makowsky also said there has been a pilot project with a dozen or so units in Regina that they want to expand where they allow folks to “have in essence roommates” and combine shelter benefits to be able to combine benefits.

Conway told reporters the upward trend in vacant units was a concern. 

“At that same time we are seeing homelessness trend upwards. We know that leaders from across the province’s urban municipalities came together last week and they have tied some of these increases in homelessness directly back to the Saskatchewan Income Support program, the SIS program. This is something we’ve done in opposition, we’ve identified this connection… so it’s a great concern that there’s been really been no movement on this, there’s been no improvements. If anything we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

As for SIS, “anything less than major changes I think would fail to address the issue.”

“When you think about the fact that a single individual gets just over $300 for food, clothing, transportation, maybe utilities, really everything they need to survive and $600 for rent, these are rates that are absolutely impossible to survive off of… That combination of cuts under the SIS program as the cost of living has skyrocketed has been one of great concern to people, I think.”