This Week At City Hall: The Mayor’s Big Housing Announcement

This Week at City HallSpeaking with media in February, Mayor Michael Fougere promised that the 2013 Housing Summit wouldn’t be an all talk, no action affair.

And when asked how his summit would differ from the two housing summits held by the province in 2010 and 2011, the Mayor replied, “I want to be clear on this, I will do the best I can and this council will do the best it can not to have a talk fest where you just talk and talk about strategies and go away and plan for the future. I want commitments and things that will work today for solutions.”

fougeresbighousingannouncementWell, at the Summit’s conclusion on Tuesday, he made his Big Housing Annoucement. In short, the plan going forward is…

  • Hold a second summit in 2014 on a theme that’s yet to be determined.
  • Establish a new committee called the Mayor’s Housing Forum that will be tasked with promoting housing in the city. Who will be on that committee, how often it will meet and its first action items are yet to be determined.
  • Put up nine city lots and two bus turn-around sites for sale to the non-profit sector to be used for housing.

So what do you think? Sufficiently action-packed? There’s a comment window below. Fill it up.

For those wanting more detail from Fougere on his housing vision, below the fold is an excerpt of the post-summit Q&A between the mayor and the stalwart women and men of the city’s press corp. Questions in there from Metro, Leader Post, CJME, CBC, Global, CTV and Prairie Dog.

Q: Can you talk about the new Mayor’s Housing Forum [the new housing-focused committee]?
Mayor Fougere: I think we need to continue the dialogue, continue the discussion. We heard some great initiatives here. We discussed this for many months on council. This is a way to keep this a priority on council to make sure that we adapt and be nimble in how we respond to market conditions, and how we do innovation in housing. It’s a first step of really responding to some of the things we heard about in the last two days.

Q: What will be its mandate?
MF: We’re going to flesh that out. But certainly what that is is to firstly distill and talk about what we learned in the last two days. The work that’s been done by so many people is not going to be lost on council or the administration. We want to make sure we set those priorities.

Then we’re going to talk about how do we actually in a practical sense have an action plan to remove the red tape in the decision making process to be quicker and more nimble to respond. For instance if we need to make a bylaw change for pocket housing, we need to talk about that quickly and make that decision fast, not wait and wait and wait. I think we’re trying to be as nimble and as quick as we can be to respond to what the market says, what the citizens of Regina say in how we go forward. The composition? Not sure yet. This will go to council for approval. We’ll think about how we want to have that. We want to have citizens on there for sure. Surely want to have council on there as well and of course we’re going to have administration on there to help guide us through the process.

Q: How quickly can we expect a committee to respond? The goal is to reach three per cent vacancy by 2017.
MF: Well if we don’t act now, we’ll never get there. The point is, we want an action plan. This is what the community’s been talking about. You heard that today. People want action. The strategy is there to some degree. So let’s start acting and doing things as soon as we can. It will take time. Yes. But if we do nothing, we won’t get anywhere either.

Q: Will this be faster than the existing system?
MF: That’s the intent. Make this more transparent, more quick, more nimble. But we’re going to respect due process. We’re going to have a way to move our process ahead more quickly.

Q: When will we see this set up?
MF: We’ll go to council [with it], if not his month then next month. We’ll go as soon as we can.

Q: Can you talk about the nine lots and two bus turn around sites you’ll be putting up for sale for housing?
MF: We have a lot of lots around the city that are orphan lots that are just there. And we’ve analyzed them to see if there’re serviceable and we think there are nine lots that we can make available to non-profit organizations for housing very quickly.

Q: What will be built there? Multi-unit buildings, single-family homes?
MF: I think we’ll leave that to the non-profits to decide that. We’ll look at the flexibility to make sure that we’re doing what we can to promote affordable housing across the city. And if they request a different zoning or a bylaw change, I don’t see that as a problem. These are non-profits providing housing, that’s what the whole point of this summit was for.

Q: How much will these lots be sold for?
MF: I think we need to talk to each one [each non-profit] and once we begin the process, we put this out to the market to see what’s there. Typically, we donate the land. But we can have a very low price for the land and service the land. I think it just depends on who is interested in buying that land. But we’re not going to inhibit that. The point is to get the land on market for housing right away.

Q: There were many unique ideas from other cities that were presented at the Summit. Any that grabbed your attention?
MF: I like the idea of the pocket housing that Winnipeg is doing. I think it has a lot to say about what we could do downtown for example, where prices of land are expensive and it’s hard to find affordable housing downtown. That could also be applied in other areas of the city where we’re looking for more affordable housing.

I think the issue of homelessness was an extremely interesting talk. And I know with our provincial partners we could maybe talk about what we can do there in the future. That is primarily the responsibility of the province with health issues and social service, those kinds of issues.

The Home First initiative can’t be done by the city, it’s really a provincial and federal joint initiative. Those discussions we’ll have with [the Federation of Canadian Municipalities] and the Big City Mayor’s Caucus to talk about what that would look like.

Those are just highlights. Frankly, I think the whole two days was very very good. We learned a lot of good things. It’s time we started getting an action plan.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

7 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: The Mayor’s Big Housing Announcement”

  1. So how much did the City spend on the summit and we got: a new comittee, promise of a second summit and 11 lots to non-profits to develop housing?

    O_o

    Given I have no idea how big those lots are even if you assume an average of 4 units per lot, that will add 44 units….in a city of about 207,000 people. Even if you double my estimate of units…that’s nothing. Does “a drop in a bucket” mean anything to these people?!?!

    It’s nice to know we have such strong leadership with fresh ideas on priorities (irony font). Mmm, how many building could we put up for housing instead of that new statium I wonder?

  2. I just don’t see what’s behind all the Fougerian vagueries. Who are the “non-profits” with dibs on this land? Can a slumlord or big-time developer in Calgary incorporate part of their empire as “non-profit”, get the land and build a single-family dwelling and sell it for $500K? Is this intended to be social housing?

    I’ll admit, I’m cynical and tired and just assume 99% of these outcomes will go to favour established big-time developers, providing as little affordable housing as possible, or maybe just a parking lot, but are these intentions totally different? It’s just same-old politician talk so far.

  3. It seems strange to me that Fougere wants to do pocket housing downtown. The whole innovation of pocket housing is that it allows higher-density infill housing in neighbourhoods with reasonably large single-family homes (like, say, the Cresents), while maintaining the character of the neighbourhoods. By providing affordable housing in typically high-priced, low-density neighbourhoods, pocket housing develops mixed-income areas (with many documented advantages over our current pseudo-ghettoisation policy) and increases density (valuable for infrastructure reasons) without triggering fears of reverse-gentrification (which exacerbates NIMBYism).

    Instead of using pocket housing where appropriate, Fougere would rather throw this innovation downtown, where heritage building conversions (north of Vic) and walk-ups (south of Vic) are far more appropriate. Whatta loon!

  4. Talbot – I’m not a fan of the Mayor, Council or the administration for that matter, but I can’t see them attempting this. What I can see happening is them giving every single lot to Habitat for a single family house and not even looking at more innovative approaches. Habitiat here does fill a need, but not as well as it could. Other branches in other cities are doing far more innovative things. There are non profits here, like Ehrlo, Silver Sage, Gabriel, Namarind just to name a few who are willing to try something new and provide more than one housing unit per lot. They should be trying to get the most bang for their buck, but in the past this hasn’t been what has happened.

    Brad – I hope he’s talking about inner city neighbourhoods not downtown itself, because yes, these things fit in better as infill in older neighbourhoods, they would be a waste of land in the downtown where apartment buildings can be built. I think this is what he meant though as the two that have been built thus far are in Heritage not downtown. They should put a few up in Cathedral,Crescents, Transition, Lakeview, etc. though, spread them out a bit. People in Regina seem to be infected with a rabid sort of NIMBYism that attacks anything that is at all different from their living situation. I’ve even seen people freaking out over narrow lot single family and expensive townhomes in their neighburhoods because “those people” would be moving in. You may be able to get these into Cathedral, as the residents moved into a mixed density neighbourhood and expect it (and in many cases love it), but a lot of other neighbourhoods in Regina would flip.

  5. I too was skeptical of the mayor’s summit, and the council’s will to make substantial changes to how we approach housing in the city. But after attending the summit, I have changed my mind about both council and the mayor.

    The summit itself was highly informative, with a wide range of presentations and speakers. There were practical presentations on pocket housing from Winnipeg, container housing from Vancouver, and an inspiring message from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. Not to mention inspiring stories from right here in Regina, by both Namerind and Eden Care Communities. Both of these local stories showcased innovation, commitment and compassion, values I hold up as a Canadian and a Regina resident.

    Most of the summit was focused on affordable housing, not the interests of large real estate developers. All of the council members were at the summit except one, and both the mayor and council evidence a strong will to make changes to the current housing crisis in Regina. The mayor re-stated his commitment to increase the residential vacancy rate in Regina to 3.0% by 2017.

    A healthy amount of skepticism is a good thing. But as residents we need to become informed and base our opinions on educated perspectives, not uninformed biases. I was not only very pleased with the summit, and the outcomes announced by the mayor. But as other leaders in the housing sector from other parts of Canada stated, the high quality of presentations and the leadership shown by our elected officials makes me proud of our mayor and council for their leadership on this file. Keep up the good work!

  6. We should re-purpose all of the run down buildings in the city to be made into affordable housing. Let’s start along 11th Avenue and expand from there. This is true revitalization.

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