River Bank Development Corporation cuts ribbon on 100th house

The backyard of an unassuming bungalow in the Midtown area was the site of a historic moment for the City of Prince Albert and River Bank Development Corporation Thursday.

Joined by representatives of the provincial and federal government, as well as from the city police, a ribbon was cut marking the opening of River Bank Development Corporation’s 100th home.

The non-profit organization, which receives government subsidies to buy, renovate and build affordable housing for families in the city, has been operating since 1998. It got its start with 50 apartment buildings before moving to duplexes and houses.

The latest property was acquired on May 30. A few minor renovations will see repairs to the plumbing and electrical as well as a new coat of paint. Then, the home will be ready to give a family a stable place to live for $850 a month.

“We do have a housing shortage for families in Prince Albert,” River Bank general manager Brian Howell said.

“This house will house a large family for sure at an affordable rental rate … which most larger families can manage quite well. It’s a nice neighbourhood and close to schools, so we think it’ll just be a good place for people to live.”

The project unveiled Thursday was one of a set of four houses making up a single project 3 funded with the support of the federal government through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and by the province through the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation. The project consisted of the purchase and renovation of four single-family homes located in the Westview, West Flat and Midtown neighbourhoods. The average size of the homes is 1,000 square feet.

The federal and provincial governments jointly contributed $465,000 to the project through the Canada-Saskatchewan Investment in Affordable Housing agreement. 

River Bank works with KidsFirst, Family Futures and the Native Coordinating Council to find and place needy families and to provide additional support to the new tenants.

Speaking on behalf of Social Services Minister Paul Merriman, Prince Albert Carlton MLA and Crown Investments Corporation Minister Joe Hargrave praised the work of River Bank Development Corporation.

“It’s a wonderful day in the City of Prince Albert,” he said.

Joe Hargrave speaks prior to cutting the ribbon for River Bank Development’s 100th house in Prince Albert on June 6, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“These are homes for multiple individuals, so they can accommodate a number of family members in the home. They’re safe and affordable, and the families who live in them have benefitted from a variety of support services. The partnerships we have in Prince Albert with community associates like River Bank Development corporation …. It’s wonderful to see they’re continuing … the good work they do in providing these affordable rental homes for people.”

Coun. Don Cody, speaking on behalf of Mayor Greg Dionne, agreed.

 “We in the City of Prince Albert really appreciate the fact that CMHC and the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation have collaborated together with the River Bank Development Corporation to bring affordable housing to the City of Prince Albert,” he said.

“What is better than having a home to go to? What’s nice to see is that we didn’t knock the house down and start fresh. These houses are very good. They have good foundations. They have a great life left in them. Thank you ever so much for the work you do for the great city of Prince Albert.”

100 houses an important milestone

Howell’s been looking ahead to the century mark for some time.

Thursday, he recounted a story that when he started out in 2003, one of his board members, Rene Blom, told him that in order to survive as an independent organization, they would need to have at least one hundred units.

“I said that was my goal, and I have to admit a few people looked at me a bit skeptically,” Howell chuckled.

“But I am pleased to inform you that with this house we have achieved that goal of 100 units, and we have no intention of stopping there.:

Howell said that over the years, governments have contributed about $8 million in funding, while River Bank itself has come up with $3 million. That $11 million has helped dozens of families.

Howell has no intention of slowing down.

“We’re thinking of this style of housing for a while,” Howell said.

“This seems to be a need for families. There seem to be lots of apartments around Prince Albert and a shortage of houses. We like working with families. We see children as the next generation that’s going to keep things going, so we need to support them.”

Over the years, Howell said, the corporation has learned a lot about building and renovating, but also about property management and tenant management.

“I think the most important is you have to operate efficiently. You have to try to take good care of your units, your tenants and the people in the neighbourhood,” he said.

“You’ve got a responsibility to your community as well so you have to think about that and work hard to make things happen.”

Howell also said that the work the corporation does wouldn’t have been possible without the outside funding provided by partners such as the federal and provincial governments.

“(Funding) really is essential to build this and to do this kind of project,” he said.

“If we were t buy this house on the open market and pay full price for it, we’d have to get 12 or 13 hundred dollars or more a month in rent just o break even. With the support we get, we’re able to charge the lower rent. It really is making a difference.”