City Hall rolls up its sleeves and gets to work on a long-running crisis

by Paul Dechene

History may remember the evening of Monday,  April 29 as the night when Regina’s city council passed its Comprehensive Housing Strategy passed. The plan sets an ambitious goal for Regina to reach a city-wide vacancy rate of three per cent by 2017, which will be 10 years after this newspaper first pointed out that our city’s low vacancy rate constitutes a housing crisis.

I will always remember it as the night city manager Glen Davies had to rush out of the chamber because his cell phone was loudly going off. Fun fact: His ringtone is Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. Everybody laughed, poor guy. It might have been the first time in months that I’ve seen the entire gallery, council and administration united in something.

I mean, who doesn’t love that song?

Davies’ cell phone gaffe came in the midst of an address by ward one councillor, Barb Young, who was tackling the question of rooming houses.

“Rooming houses” here refers to buildings in which rooms are rented out to individual tenants, all of whom likely share a kitchen and washrooms. They’re a good solution for people looking for a low-cost housing option. And the strategy recommends that the city find ways to foster their creation.

But this emerged as a highly contentious idea during the public consultation as people were concerned about the parking problems rooming houses can cause, the shabby condition that many appear to be in, and the fact that many are set up without complying with city bylaws.

To address these concerns, Young proposed tabling all the recommendations related to rooming houses so that administration could conduct a comprehensive review of them.

“It was a very good motion,” said Mayor Michael Fougere after the meeting. “In terms of rooming houses, there’s lots of confusion and frustration by residents across the city. We heard that at executive committee last month, we had our open house last week and we heard all about that and we heard it again tonight. Council understands that and is listening. We’re going to table it, get it out of the recommendations. Have a discussion separate and distinct from the policy itself. And come back with some best practices. A clear, simple policy that will help answer the issue.

“Hopefully we’ll get that right,” he said.

Beyond this, the only other change to the strategy came via a motion from ward three councillor Shawn Fraser who proposed changing the term “affordable housing” in the upcoming housing strategy implementation plan to “at or below average rent” housing.

This came in response to many concerns raised by delegations that the city would be able to claim it was promoting “affordable” housing according to the definitions in their strategy when in fact they were backing market-rate housing that isn’t affordable to many low-income households.

From this point, city administration will take the goals and vision laid out in the strategy and begin work on an implementation plan that is expected to go before council this summer.