The availability of affordable housing has been an issue of concern for various groups in Yorkton the last number of years.
It is an issue of sufficient concern the City of Yorkton created its own Housing Committee to look at options.
The issue is also one which had the Yorkton branch of the Canadian University Women’s Association (CUWA) holding a panel discussion on housing with a particular focus on the need of middle income seniors.
Bilkies McKen with the CUWA said her organization felt there was a need to look at housing from the particular perspective of seniors. She said the goal of the panel discussion was “to add to the knowledge we have and making us aware of what’s out there.”
Ron Skinner, co-chair of the City’s Housing Committee said they are looking “at the whole housing continuum.” In that respect the committee is concerned with everything from assisted living, to supported housing, to new homes and apartments available at market prices.
When it comes to housing specific to middle income senior housing, housing for those not able to qualify for subsidized housing, and unable to bear the full market costs in the current buoyant housing market, Skinner said the committee has not done a lot of specific work.
That said, Skinner said a big part of the Committee’s role is to “identify gaps” in housing in the city, and to then try to bring people to the table who can best address the gap.
Skinner said the needs of middle income seniors is just another housing concern to be added to an already long list.
“There are so many social housing needs within the city that need to be addressed,” he said. “There’s a lot more demand than there is supply.”
So what do middle income seniors want? The consensus starting point from those in the audience seemed to be a home in the $200,000 range, without steps to deal with.
Mark Bell, regional manager with Regional Housing Operations said the challenge is identifying middle income. He did however explain to qualify for Sask senior housing the income has to be below $32,000 annually, with assets under $200,000.
Skinner said that is not like a reasonable expectation, at least in terms of new housing. He said the “reality in today’s marketplace” would bring housing in a four-storey unit in at a starting price of $235 - $265,000.
Questioned why similar housing appeared cheaper in Calgary, Skinner said they gain from economy of scale.
“The challenge Saskatchewan has always had is 1.1 million people,” spread over a “massive amount of land.” As a result building large scale multi-unit developments are simply not viable.
Bell said building costs have also escalated greatly in recent years. He pointed to Fairview Arms which when built had the 50 units come in at about $100,000 a door.
“Today you couldn’t build 25-units for $5 million,” he said.
The cost increase is a result of rising costs for serviced lots in the city, building materials going up, and a shortage of tradespeople, which has driven up that cost element of building, said Skinner.
“There are several things that work against low income housing,” he said.
And there is only so far government investment can go in housing, said Skinner.
“The amount of money government has compared to the demand that is there — there’s a total imbalance there,” he said.
While funds might not be available, Bell said he believes the provincial government knows of the needs which exist.
“I think they’re aware of the problem on a provincial basis,” he said. He would add later housing “… is a global problem.”
Bell added that everyone involved must be “as creative as possible” in finding solutions to housing, adding the federal government has been out of housing funding since the 1990s, and the province is focused on social housing for particular groups, such as those with disabilities.