Non-profit housing groups band together

Brian Howell, manager at River Bank Development Corporation. -- Herald file photo

A group of non-profit housing corporations have banded together to create a province-wide non-profit housing network designed to improve representation and lower costs.

Officially called the Network of Non-Profit Housing Providers of Saskatchewan (NPHPS), the new group already has 8 member organizations, with two more scheduled to soon join, after only a few months of operation.

The list of current members includes two local organizations: Prince Albert Community Housing and River Bank Development Corp.

River Bank manger Brian Howell said the move is long overdue.

“There was a sense that we needed a broader group to represent housing providers across the province,” he explained during an interview on Friday. “We started this new group and we’ve had a number of objectives. First, we’re the only province that doesn’t have an association representing the non-profit housing sector. We thought it was about time that Saskatchewan caught up to everybody else.”

Getting professional representation to effectively lobby the government was the biggest need. Non-profit housing providers didn’t have a professional association speaking for them, like for-profit landlords do.

So far, NPHPS representatives have met with the Ministry of Social Services and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and secured their first big win when members gained the right to change rental rates with six months notice. Previously, non-profit groups had to wait a full year. The change is designed to give non-profit organizations more financial flexibility.

The other major goal is to give member organizations a way to combine their purchasing power. Howell said the provincial government’s tight financial situation has made it difficult for non-profits to keep operating. Ideally, they’re looking to band together to get deals on everything from utility rates to office supplies.

“Incomes have been quite static, so we haven’t really been able to pass the increases in cost from taxes and utilities and that sort of thing on to our tenants,” Howell said. “We’re really needing to find effective ways to work together to reduce our cost.”

Non-profit housing groups have tried these kinds of partnerships before in Saskatchewan, but never on this scale. Locally, the City of Prince Albert’s former financial director, Steve Brown, worked to get non-profits like River Bank involved in a supply savings pilot program with the city. Province-wide, six Métis urban housing organizations banded together to negotiate better deals on things like insurance packages and utility rates.

Gabriel Housing Corporation in Regina was one of the six non-profit housing providers involved with the program. When the NPHPS was set up, they were among the first to join.

Gabriel CEO Doug Moran said non-profit landlords have different needs and goals than their for-profit counterparts, making a province-wide organization more than necessary.

“We just felt it was time for something new,” he explained. “We’ve been pretty stagnant in the housing area, so I think this is a really exciting opportunity for people to buy in and take it where it can go.”

Gabriel owns nearly 400 low-income housing units in Regina. In the past year, they’ve suffered through a five per cent property tax increase, five per cent increase for power, three-and-a-half per cent increase for energy and the phasing out of the Rental Housing Supplement.

Moran said the NPHPS will be vital in helping them trim their budget so they can maintain staff and keep their properties in good shape.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard in the last year-and-a-half with increase after increase after increase,” Moran said. “Whatever we can do to assist our non-profit sector to save some money, that’s another one of our goals.”

Both Moran and Howell are optimistic the NPHPS will have long-term benefits for the province of Saskatchewan, but they aren’t planning to rest on their laurels.

Howell said the lines of communication need to be open, not just with the provincial government, but with potential new members as well. He’s hoping to see some quick expansion now that the initial framework is in place.

“We don’t really know what sort of uptake we’re going to get,” he explained. “We haven’t really set a goal. We’re just working to try and get everyone on board.”