REGINA — Regina has hit its three-per-cent rental vacancy rate target two years early, but affordability remains an issue, say some.
“I think it’s a start. I don’t think it solves the problems,” said Coun. Barbara Young, a member of the Mayor’s Housing Commission.
The city’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy set a three-per-cent rental vacancy rate target for 2017. According to a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report, Regina had achieved that goal by October.
It’s the first time since 2006 that the rate has been this high. The rate includes rental buildings with three units or more, excluding social or affordable housing.
“Now I think it’s a question of making sure we maintain a good rental stock in the city so that we don’t get into a housing crunch perhaps like we were a couple years ago,” said Coun. Bob Hawkins, also a member of the commission.
A staff report on the CMHC data says about 350-400 new units per year are needed to keep up with Regina’s projected growth. The report is optimistic that Regina can maintain a three-per-cent rate or higher into the spring.
“I would expect that as more rental housing stock comes on the market that rental rates will stabilize,” said Hawkins.
That’s the hope of the city, too, said Yves Richard, manager of neighbourhood planning. He said that while the city has no control over rent, it can encourage rental development through its housing incentives.
So far, though, increased rental stock hasn’t brought costs down.
From October 2013 to October 2014, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment rose three per cent, to $1,079 from $1,018. That’s on top of a 3.7-per-cent increase the previous year.
The rent increase in what CMHC calls secondary units (rentals that aren’t apartments, like houses or condominiums), was more pronounced: The average monthly rent in October 2014 was $1,243, an increase of 21 per cent over the previous year.
Those statistics concern Marc Spooner, a University of Regina education professor and housing advocate.
“The numbers seem to be healthy if you can afford the high cost in rent, whereas I think now what we really need to see is a shift in our tack,” he said.
Spooner reiterated his call for a co-ordinated action plan between the three levels of government to address Regina’s most vulnerable populations.
The city is conducting its first point-in-time count of homeless people in May, another matter that is coming before the housing commission meeting on Thursday.
Young is looking forward to the initiative. She also wants to see the city focus more on providing grants and assistance for affordable unit construction, which is currently does under its Housing Incentives Policy. That policy will come under review this year, taking into account these latest statistics.
“I think the housing incentives policy was set at a time when we were anxious about rental stock and anxious about the housing crunch,” said Hawkins. “Now we have to make sure that any incentives we give (1) are necessary and (2) are targeted to areas where we want to see improved housing.”
This latest CMHC data will also affect the city’s Condominium Conversion Policy, which only allows apartments to be converted to condos when the vacancy rate hits three per cent for two consecutive reports.
Despite that, the CMHC report says 230 such switches occurred between October 2013 and October 2014. Richard explained that the policy contains an exception for heritage properties and buildings that have been vacant for 12 months or more.
Rental market report essentials
* As of October 2014, Regina’s vacancy rate sat at three per cent, up from 1.8 per cent a year before. All but three-plus bedroom units saw increases.
* The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased three per cent to $1,079.
* The northeast had the greatest vacancy rate at 4.7 per cent; the south had the lowest at 0.9 per cent.
* Only the east of Regina saw a vacancy rate decline, to 2.1 per cent from 3.5 per cent the year before.
* The northwest area of Regina had the highest reported average rent for a two-bedroom apartment at $1,280; west Regina had the lowest at $969.
* Rented condominiums saw a slight decrease in vacancy to 1.2 per cent from 1.4 per cent.
* Secondary units (rented houses, condos, suites, etc.) saw an average increase in rent of 21 per cent, to $1,243.
* The average vacancy rate for Saskatchewan’s major urban centres was 4.1 per cent. Saskatoon sat at 3.4 per cent.
* Across Saskatchewan, the average monthly rent in urban centres was $1,056.