The City of Regina will try to bring more developments and additional breaks for affordable housing to the city’s core following changes to a housing incentive policy.
The amendments were approved unanimously during Wednesday’s city council meeting.
“We’ve debated this extensively on numerous occasions,” said Coun. Andrew Stevens (Ward 3) at the outset of the discussion.
He asked city administration to review the general information in a city report, asking “what are the changes and what policy objectives does it advance.”
Deborah Bryden, executive director city planning and community development, said the policy “sets up the role of the city in responding to local housing conditions,” which includes setting policy “to support the development of attainable and affordable housing.”
The amendments to the $1.5 million Housing Incentives Policy (HIP) which seeks to address the lack of housing and new residential properties in the city’s core, incentivizing new builds. The HIP offers money in the form of grants, tax exemptions etc. supporting and developing “new rental and ownership units that address current housing needs, including below market and affordable units,” said the city.
Under the amendments developments in the downtown core, North Central and Heritage neighbourhoods would be incentives. For example applications for HIP finding are only open to developers looking to build in those three areas until July 31 of a given year.
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“On its own, the Housing Incentive Policy has not provided sufficient support to drive the development of affordable units,” said Bryden.
Administration said there is a considerable amount of development occurring in “greenfield” developments, so these changes to how money is sent out will inform more centralized projects, in theory.
Conditions in local housing have changed, given the “healthy vacancy rate” present in Regina, said Bryden. The new policies will look to address “the deterioration of existing housing stock particularly in North Central, City Center and in Heritage” said Bryden.
Coun. Terina Nelson (Ward 7) asked why the incentive program went from providing money over a five-year timeframe to a 10-year time frame for affordable units.
Laura Pfeifer, senior city planner, said in 2020 or 2019 the change occurred as a reflection that many of the projects that get grants from the province or from the federal governments provide funding support for more than five years.
Nelson then asked a straightforward question: “Why would I build in North Central?”
She said if the incentives exist for greenfield locations outside of the downtown core, a company could build affordable housing and after 10 years the affordable property could be sold or rented outside of the “affordable” framework, she felt that developers might look to take advantage of that.
Nelson added since the property in newer areas of town will be worth more than the North Central or Heritage, she felt this program could be exploited.
Masters pushed back on this idea. She said since the program will be available exclusively for applicants building in the three earmarked neighbourhoods until July 31, there is a possibility that no funds would be available for developers applying for HIP funds outside of the city core.
Masters said she would consider it a “win” if that pool of money was depleted by the time it became open for all applicants.