$596M in Saskatchewan Housing units sitting vacant, NDP says

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post NDP housing critic Meara Conway speaks at a podium beside Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck in front of a Saskatchewan Housing Corporation unit on Rae street to discuss the current housing issue on Tuesday, July 25, 2023 in Regina.

Trillian Reynoldson

Regina Leader-Post

According to the NDP, the government has quietly and dramatically cut Saskatchewan Housing Corporation supports over the past ten years, with many units sitting vacant during a “homelessness crisis.”

Meara Conway, Opposition housing critic, released new figures Tuesday, revealing $596 million in empty Sask. Housing units, and more than $194 million wasted on the empty units during what she calls an “affordable housing crisis.”

“People who can’t afford rent are sleeping in the streets, families are struggling to find affordable options, and are paying more and more of their income to housing during an affordability crisis,” she said, adding “the Sask. Party government is responsible.”

“The level of incompetence, of waste, of neglect on the part of the Sask. Party government is truly stunning.”

In July, the Sask. NDP said there were more than twice as many vacant Saskatchewan Housing Corporation units in 2022 than there were in 2021.

Conway said currently there are almost 700 vacant units in Regina.

“That basically means that in Regina one in four units are sitting vacant,” she said.

“The vacancy rate in overall housing in Regina is 23 per cent, particularly in senior’s housing it’s 27 per cent.”

She added the situation in Saskatoon is slightly better than it is in Regina, and the provincial vacancy rate is 18 per cent.

A release from the NDP said Saskatchewan Housing Corporation Annual Reports, audited financial statements, and documents obtained through FOI requests reveal the province’s overall contribution to the Housing Portfolio fell from 24 per cent of total revenues in 2011 to two per cent in 2021.

Conway said cuts made over the past decade represent a reduction of between $350 million, and half a billion from previous levels of provincial funding.

“People keep saying ‘what is happening in our communities?’ The deteriorating social and economic situation is visible, the steep rise in homelessness is chilling, and the impacts go well beyond those directly affected,” she said.

“Minister Makowsky has said time and time that the situation is out of control. He says he can’t house homeless people because Saskatchewan Housing units have fallen into disrepair. But it was the Sask. Party government that cut the renovation funding year after year.”

Conway said as winter approaches, there will panic again, as there “seems to be no cold weather strategy.”

“The province is late to the party in terms of having a plan for addressing homelessness as we go into the colder months.”

In July, Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky said the province is investing in the units, but said solving homelessness is not as easy as “handing over a key and thinking everything will be fine.”

“We have to have a little more of a nuanced approach,” Makowsky said at the time.

“We spend a lot of money on keeping, on upgrading our units and some of them are used and unfortunately, some get destroyed by some tenants.” According to Makowsky, the government spends around $75 million a year on maintenance and improvement of the units but many of the vacant units are not inhabitable.