NDP says public housing conditions a ‘chronic issue’ across Saskatchewan

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post NDP MLA Meara Conway.

Alec Salloum

Regina Leader-Post

Shannon Kay says the Saskatoon social housing unit she moved into has made her youngest child sick due to multiple sewage backups and black mould.

You can see the splotches of rash over the hands of her six-year-old son River. The mother and son were in Regina on Thursday to share their story and their experience with public housing in the province.

Kay, who lives in a Saskatoon Housing Authority property, said she’s concerned about how the black mould will be removed from her home.

“I don’t want him to get any more sick than he already is and he’s visited the doctor like how many times already,” said Kay, noting that she was told to “crack a window” or get a fan to circulate air in the unit. “Like, what is that going to do?”

“I’m just trying to do the best thing for my children,” she added.

Three years ago, Kay and her children fled their Saskatoon home to escape from domestic violence. They relocated and found a new home but then an electrical fire put an end to that fresh start.

Now, in their current unit, many of the family’s possessions have been damaged by sewage. Neighbours also report cockroaches and rodents.

When Kay asked the housing authority if there would be any kind of reimbursement for damaged property “we were told no, that they would just bring a big garbage bin and that all of us families would just have to throw away all of our belongings.”

During Thursday’s question period, Opposition Leader Carla Beck read a doctor’s note saying River “was exposed to mould in their apartment and developed an allergic reaction causing allergic conjunctivitis. His hands and arms are covered in a painful rash.”

Beck spoke of the unit’s squalid conditions and asked Premier Scott Moe if he found those conditions acceptable.

Moe agreed the conditions were “not acceptable,” adding that Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky would be available to meet with Kay.

Meara Conway, social services critic, said: “their case is one of thousands where Sask Housing units aren’t kept in good repair and aren’t able to provide safe and affordable housing to people in need.”

Conway said she reached out to Makowsky after seeing the home as well as the black mould and River’s condition. She said she messaged the ministry two weeks ago, and Kay herself reached out too.

“Does every case come to me? No,” said Makowsky. “This case was being looked at in real time.”

For Conway and the NDP, this example highlights the current state of many SHA public housing units in the province, and is a “chronic issue.” As it stands, there are some 17,000 units owned by the SHA and approximately 2,720 are vacant.

A government spokesperson said SHA unit vacancy hovers around 16 per cent, explaining “vacancy is dynamic with people moving in or out of units on a regular basis. Hence the percentage rather than a static figure.”

The minister said there is still work to be done on the units but, in this case, he was not aware of the issues presented on Thursday.

“I certainly can’t speak to every situation province-wide but I know in this situation, I’m told, that there has been work done. It’s not like it’s being ignored,” said Makowsky.

Conway said “over time” there has been a 41-per-cent decrease in the renovation and maintenance budget for the SHA. Her point is that lessening their contributions to maintenance has resulted in the worsening condition of public housing stock.

“These are long-standing issues in vacant units as well as units that are currently being used as housing for people due to a decade or more of neglect by the Sask. Party government,” she said.

Contained within this budget, the province contributed $9.6 million to improve vacant units across the province.