A former Prince Albert resident who wishes to move back is encountering the same problem that turned New York mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan into an Internet phenomenon: Rent is too damn high.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
P.A. Rental & Leasing Services owner Jonathan Smith discusses affordable housing from his office.
Todd Osborne has lived with his wife and children in Hamilton, Ont., since 2006, holding down a warehouse job. But the increase in rental prices here makes the prospect of returning to P.A. more difficult.
“I’d rather be back in Prince Albert, where I know a lot of people,” Osborne said. “My wife’s family is out there, a lot of my good friends are up there. I have family that live up in Saskatchewan going all the way over to B.C.
“It’s a nice, quiet place to live. The people are friendly … I’ve talked to a lot of people down here that said they would love to move there, but you can’t get a place to live.”
Osborne previously rented a three plus two bedroom house on 20th Street East for $600 per month. Monthly rent in the same area now comes closer to $1,500 and $1,800.
Osborne noted that wages have not increased by anywhere near that rate. He complained that the municipal government’s strategy of attracting developers has mostly resulted in fevered condo development.
“It just seems like, ‘OK, let’s bring in tons and tons of big business,’ but where are the people going to live?” he asked. “These people are not going to just automatically go to Prince Albert, Sask., and … buy a condo, and then all of a sudden, the money that they’re making for a wage doesn’t pay the bills.
“There is not enough affordable housing there now, and all these plans that the councilors, that the mayor wannabes have — that’s great, but you need to start at the bottom. First you need to get housing to go in there.”
City councillor and mayoral candidate Greg Dionne has made economic development a cornerstone of his campaign. He proposes a number of measures to make housing more affordable, including added support for groups like Habitat for Humanity and providing tax incentives to help residents build on empty lots.
“The problem with lots of people not being able to get into homes (is) they can’t qualify, because they’re at what I call market entry jobs,” Dionne said. “Those are the people that have young families —one or two kids — and to me we have to come up with a system to assist them with getting into homes.”
Not everyone believes the city has a housing problem.
“To say people who move to Prince Albert cannot find a reasonable place to live, that’s simply not true,” P.A. Rental & Leasing Services owner Jonathan Smith said. “We have quite a lot of very good rental stock at the moment that’s within the guidelines of affordable housing.”
I’ve talked to a lot of people down here that said they would love to move there, but you can’t get a place to live. Todd Osborne
But it is beyond dispute that rental prices have risen substantially in recent times. Dave Deobald, the general manager of Prince Albert Housing Authority, estimated that rent has increased by 40 per cent in only four years.
According to Smith, consolidation of local property owners played a major role in pushing up prices. A pair of real estate investment trusts, Shelter Canadian and Weidner Apartment Homes, moved into Prince Albert prior to the boom and bought up much of the city’s best housing stock. When Weider bought out Shelter Canadian, they gained control of a huge portion of the city’s rental units.
Smith mostly dismissed the correlation between a booming economy and an increase in the cost of rent.
“There’s lots of areas that are having booms that still have low rental prices,” he said. “It’s not necessarily directly related. The thing that pushes rental prices up is property sales. It’s debt servicing. So where you have a market where a lot of properties have changed hands recently, you’re going to have an increase in rent prices because they need to cover their debt servicing.”
Despite the increased cost of living, Fred Payton, chairman of the board at the P.A. Housing Authority, said that the municipal Housing Advisory Committee was working on a number of measures to make housing more affordable.
“One of the things that the city Housing Advisory Committee has done is it has encouraged city council to set aside a portion of the taxes that are paid by social housing organizations in the city to establish a fund that can be utilized for the city’s portion of costs towards new social housing,” Payton said.
“There are also steps that the Housing Advisory Committee has done, including the establishment of appropriate secondary suite policy for the city. So those are things that have been done to try and make things more affordable.”
Mayor Jim Scarrow said the housing issue is on the city’s radar.
“I think every city is struggling with housing,” he said. “Just in addition to the economic boom in Saskatchewan, we’re seeing large numbers of immigration, coupled with a large number of people who are moving from reserves into communities, towns or villages for job opportunities and educational opportunities for their children.”