People Used To Live Here

And down comes the Black Building. Despite a last ditch effort by concerned citizens to halt the demolition (which you can read about here and here), the backhoes tore into 1755 Hamilton this morning, reducing a building that was once home to 46 affordable rental units to a pile of rubble.

For people concerned by the city’s zero-per cent vacancy rate — those being people with a conscience — this is a very black day.

And as we’ve mentioned repeatedly (here and here), this 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), staff could have said that this demolition contradicts the wishes council expressed when they passed the DNP and then taken the demolition application to council so it could have been debated in a public forum.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, staff quietly issued a demolition permit on December 6.

At the very least, staff could have required Westland submit a plan for the site — another requirement that should be inferred from the DNP. But, last I checked with the city, Westland Ventures has no plans for the lot at 1755 Hamilton. So, for the foreseeable future, it will remain a vacant lot, it’s most likely use, another surface parking lot.

Of course, that should please some on council who think the site would a make a nifty spot for more parking (find the relevant quote and the name of the mystery councillor it comes from about midway through this piece).

And as we reported here (oh, and here), the destruction of 46 units of affordable housing at 1755 Hamilton Street is just the beginning of Westland Ventures demolition party in Regina. At their March 12 meeting, council cleared the way for Westland to get a demolition permit for the Crescent Apartments at 1550 14th Ave. And at the meeting, a representative for Westland revealed that all of the company’s properties in the city are being considered for redevelopment. That includes an apartment building at 1555 14th Ave and the Crescent Annex on Halifax St between 13th and 14th Ave.

And considering our councillors — including Michael Fougere, the chair of the Regina Planning Committee and the person many expect to be our next mayor — have explicitly expressed their unwillingness to interfere when a landlord decides to tear down rental housing (despite Regina being mired for many years now in a housing crisis), we can expect to see a lot more pictures like the one above in the months to come.

More pics of the carnage after the jump.

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.

28 thoughts on “People Used To Live Here”

  1. F*ck. That popular, gritty alleyway behind the building’s gone now too, I suppose. So lame.

  2. This really is too bad. I always thought this building would be amazing if that facade were taken off. Has the Downtown Plan even been officially sworn in yet as a new bylaw?

  3. The majority of our city council sucks. They’re a group of apathetic, self serving morons for the most part. But make sure the mayor’s daughter doesn’t hear that, she’ll get really angry on twitter.

  4. It makes me feel sad about this city, city counsellors love to destroy the cities’ history and seem to be only catering to the rich, and leave the poor to fend for themselves. My husband and I went south today and that’s ALL we seen were condos and huge houses being built. I was questioning myself, why isn’t the city building affordable apartment complexes for lower income families. It doesn’t make sense.

  5. This is why nobody connected to selling real estate, land development or commercial construction should be allowed to hold municipal office. Almost everything regulated at that level of government presents a conflict of interest to the above named professions. Hell, so eager are they to get on council, they brazenly peddle their professional credentials as “proof” of their competence to govern!

  6. You mean housing that wasn’t fit for living? So rediculous you guys blame the City. It it needed a TON of repairs before could even live there again. It’s pathetic how people can complain about things they no NOTHING about.

    Oh, and did I mention City council doesn’t have the legal power to stop him for demolishing HIS property?

  7. Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. “Know” is spelled with a “K”. Also, you might want to click on Dechene’s links and learn something. He “nos” a lot more about this than you do.

  8. And just to restate this for the umpteenth time: we’ve talked to a lot of damned knowledgeable people who explained, in detail, how the city could have blocked this demolition. City council’s pretense of powerlessness is baloney.

  9. Anon#8: You’re right. The building needed work. According to the city’s report, their inspection revealed that there were windows and window sills that needed repairing, and painting work needed to be done. And there was probably other work that needed doing as well seeing as their report also states that repairs would have cost about $150,000.

    Sounds like a lot, but consider that you’d be hard pressed to buy a home for that kind of money in Regina any more. And this building was home for 46 households — many of them being new immigrants and low income earners.

    And there are programs available to help cover the cost of repairs to a building if the work will preserve affordable rental units.

    Westland turned that money down.

    As for council’s power to save the building — and staff’s for that matter — we proposed several strategies by which they could have stopped or delayed the demolition. They did nothing. In fact, we’ve spoken to the housing planner who was working at the city at the time and she told us that she was never consulted on the 1755 Hamilton demolition nor asked if she could come up with ways to try to save the building. (We reported that here http://www.prairiedogmag.com/archive/?id=1113)

    So yes, I do think the city shares a portion of the blame here. But there’s nothing surprising in this. This council has a very poor track record on housing and its hand’s off, “let the market solve the problem” approach is clearly not working.

    Some performance measures:
    – a net loss of 126 rental units last year
    – a 0.6 per cent vacancy rate that is likely much lower now thanks to the eviction notices Westland has been giving out around town
    – our vacancy rate hasn’t been above 2 per cent since 2006

  10. Laura: Nope. The DNP has still not been brought forward as a bylaw. I keep asking when that will happen. They keep saying “soon”. It’s been going on like that for a couple years now.

  11. That block won’t sit empty for long.It’s adjacent to the tallest building in Saskatchewan and convention centre. It could be so much more than decrepit housing.

  12. There’s probably more money to be made if it does become parking as opposed to the rent being collected from housing. All of you clamouring for affordable housing,put your money on the table,buy an old downtown building and charge people 200 bucks a month rent and you’re well on your way to bankruptcy!

  13. I look forward to reading BT’s ideas to address the current rental situation in Regina.

  14. I lived in a Westland Properties building for many years, and I think they did their very best to keep the rents low, and their tenants happy. The fact is, those old buildings really are falling apart, and if they aren’t going to get any financial assistance to keep their rental properties safe, what are they supposed to do?

  15. It didn’t take them long to demolish the building – even worked on a Sunday to do it. Makes you think they were afraid of occupiers or something.

    When Mr. Fougere campaigns this fall for his coronation, please take the above images and photoshop them in the background of his election ads.

  16. BT – THe only reason surface parking is more profitable is that the City doesn’t charge appropriate property tax for it. Also (O) they don’t actually enforce their bylaws as they pertain to parking (plus the DNP has yet to actually be adopted as per Paul and Laura’s earlier comments). The development pattern of only office buildings and surface parking is why downtown Regina sucks today. Getting rid of what little residential exists is not going to help. Also, affordalbe rentals generally don’t go for $200/mo anymore (except for income tested housing owned by non-profits/housing authorities). Nowadays, a lot of the “affordable housing” goes for more like $700/mo up to $1200 or more. You’re just completely out to lunch.

  17. Abigail: My experience talking with the management of Westland is that they cared about their tenants and didn’t want to have to evict anyone.

    I haven’t spoken to the owners.

    As for support for affordable housing, there is funding available to help with repairs. Westland (the owners) turned that funding down, preferring instead to “redevelop” their properties.

    Also, there is funding available to the city if it wanted to buy the property and fix it up.

    The city decided it wouldn’t do that.

    In both cases, the funding (I can’t remember the amounts…. they’re buried in the links above) was probably not as much as it could be. It would be nice if the federal and provincial governments would loosen the purse strings where housing is concerned. They hoard the bulk of the tax money collected in the country, and cities are left having to deal with the bulk of the infrastructure.

  18. I was wondering what “downtown” Regina really is, so I checked out Reginadowntown.ca. It’s basically a square containing Albert St., Sask. Dr., Broad St., and Victoria Ave. Within this square, even if you subbed in beautiful-but-somehow-still affordable apartments into the majority of the hated parking lots, you would still have a pretty tiny downtown with limited housing/entertainment/shopping options. Hate to say it, but it’s likely our downtown will never be comparable to other cities with a thriving downtown centre.

    If you expand the horizons and spread out to the Leg building, Wascana park, 13th Ave., Broders Annex, etc. it’s not so bad, and there is a lot of housing (of all $ values) surrounding downtown, with more going up (ex. several condos). But just downtown? Let’s stay realistic, more affordable housing downtown would be nice but still wouldn’t be a gamechanger. Let’s appreciate it for what it is, and yes, argue for improvements, but keep things in their proper perspective.

  19. Brony: When you consider how much empty space/surface parking there is just south of Vic, that could all be redeveloped as residential and make for a very lively downtown.

    But, part of the problem with losing the Black Building, as I see it, is how it was truly affordable housing. Even in the neighbourhoods that border downtown, the emphasis seems to be on condo development. Meanwhile, the bulk of the newly built rental is outside the core — and that all seems to start in the $800+/month range.

    If we honestly want a mix of housing options in and near downtown, losing the Black Building is a disaster because housing at that price point just isn’t getting built.

    This wasn’t just some two storey building with 12 units. There were 46 apartments in there.

    With an essentially zero per cent vacancy rate, that’s a devastating loss.

  20. I was born in Regina and I’ve been considering coming back to work there since there are lots of jobs available in my industry, but without rental accomodation, I’m going to have to go elsewhere. How can you attract people with no rental accomodation available? I am also a person who values historic buildings and classic details and quality of older buildings.

    Too bad Regina is living in the “revitalization” era of the 60’s and 70’s. Now I remember why I left. . .

  21. I lived in the Black Block for over three years. They worked so hard, I talked almost daily with the maintenance guys, and management, at keeping things up and people happy. I know all the tenants were happy and some given breaks on their rent. I know I had be given great breaks on mine. Didn’t they even change the name of the building at the request of the tenants? What did that cost? I would tell you all of the stories of the people who were helped but it would take too long and you would not believe it. You can’t make someone go bankrupt in the end for helping all of those people over the years. Free rent believe it or not. Trust me I lived on the streets on the west coast and know how important housing is but get off the pedestal and do something yourself and don’t blame the people who helped me and others.

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