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People Used To Live Here

The Black Building was demolished. Don’t let them tell you this couldn’t be helped

by Paul Dechene

It was the morning of April 1 when a backhoe finally tore into the Black Building at 1755 Hamilton, reducing a building that was once home to 46 affordable rental units to a pile of rubble. And there was a black irony in the demolition happening on April Fool's Day. Only a few blocks away, the Queen City Tenants Association and other anti-poverty protesters had gathered as part of a national day of action on housing.

Of course, you could say city hall's efforts to protect Regina's rental stock - especially its supply of affordable rental - have been something of a joke.

While the city has seen some success with its Housing Incentive Policy, which provides funding and tax exemptions for developers building affordable housing, due to attrition of rental units through demolitions, dilapidation and council-approved condominium conversions, we saw a net loss of 126 rental units last year.

So much for not making the same mistakes as Alberta in the 1980s and '90s. It's hard to look at our essentially zero per cent vacancy rate - the lowest in the country - and seriously claim city hall prepped Regina for the population pressures that come with a resource sector boom.

And as we've mentioned repeatedly, this demolition didn't have to happen. Considering 1755 Hamilton lies within the downtown and considering the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan speaks of the importance of having housing in the core and even recommends immediately turning the downtown into a Direct Control District (which would preclude any demolition permits being issued without council giving the go ahead), city staff could have said that this demolition contradicts the wishes council expressed when they passed the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan and then taken the demolition application to council so it could have been discussed in a public forum.

But that didn't happen. Instead, staff issued a demolition permit on Dec. 6.

At the very least, staff could have required Westland submit a plan for the site - another requirement that should be inferred from the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan. But, last we checked, Westland Ventures has no plans for the lot at 1755 Hamilton.

So, adding insult to injury, for the foreseeable future it will remain a vacant lot. Its most likely use: another surface parking lot.

April Fools.