Mayors from Saskatchewan’s cities have come together to call for a comprehensive review of the province’s social housing program, with a particular focus on eligibility criteria. This call to action comes as a substantial number of affordable housing units remain vacant across the province, a situation that has raised concerns among local leaders.
“Stable housing is a basic need,” emphasized Mayor Gerald Aalbers, Chair of SUMA’s City Mayors’ Caucus. “There are individuals in need of adequate, affordable shelter in our communities, yet we have more than 3,000 affordable housing units sitting vacant throughout the province, some chronically vacant.”
The vacancy rates have sparked discussions among mayors, including Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley, who expressed surprise at the number of empty homes in the province. While Hippsley noted that he didn’t believe Yorkton itself had a significant number of vacant homes, he acknowledged the need to collect data on housing vacancies to better understand the issue.
However, Mayor Hippsley also highlighted an important distinction: housing is not solely a municipal responsibility but requires collaboration with the provincial government to address comprehensively. “We want to help them, but we can’t download everything to the city,” he emphasized. “Our challenge would be to get them the data they need.”
The issue of homelessness in Saskatchewan appears to be on the rise due to increasing rents and the financial struggles of low-income individuals and families. Mayor Hippsley expressed concerns that the situation could worsen as the provincial government aims to increase Saskatchewan’s population by 200,000 over the next five years, potentially necessitating up to 100,000 new homes to accommodate this growth.
As the housing market tightens, rents rise, which disproportionately affects low-income individuals and families. Mayor Hippsley noted that some city mayors have reported receiving more calls from residents facing housing challenges, indicating a growing issue.
The City Mayors’ Caucus convened on June 24 to review the Social Housing Program in Saskatchewan. The province’s Social Housing Program, administered by local housing authorities on behalf of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, aims to provide safe and adequate housing to low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. These housing options are available in approximately 270 communities across Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan’s urban mayors are now urging the Ministry of Social Services and the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to conduct a comprehensive review of housing conditions in partnership with municipalities. Their goal is to ensure that housing units are optimally utilized to enhance housing stability for those in need.
Mayor Aalbers, who also serves as Vice-President of Cities for SUMA, emphasized that mental health and addictions are major concerns for Saskatchewan’s city mayors and all communities in the province. Ensuring that individuals in need of housing have access to adequate, affordable, and stable accommodations is a critical first step in addressing the mental health and addiction crisis facing Saskatchewan.
In conclusion, the call for a review of Saskatchewan’s social housing system underscores the urgent need to address housing stability and affordability in the province. By working collaboratively, municipalities and the provincial government can take meaningful steps toward ensuring that all residents have access to safe and affordable housing, thereby improving overall well-being and addressing pressing social issues.