Councillor Hawkins Meddles With Housing Pilot Project

This Week at City HallWhen Mayor Michael Fougere announced the formation of the Mayor’s Housing Commission at the Mayor’s Housing Summit on May 14, I was worried. Creating a new city committee is one of those political moves that sounds like a good idea. You know, it shows that council takes the issue so seriously that they’re going to gather the best minds in the city and have them work round the clock to come up with solutions.

A cynic like myself, however, thinks, “Great, one more layer of bureaucracy gumming everything up.”

Well, if you want to see some gummy, gummy bureaucracy in action, here’s your chance…

Some context…

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Lost Interviews: The Anti-Poverty Mission On Housing In 2013

When I was pitching stuff for the final issue of 2013, one of the pieces I suggested was a sum up of how the housing market changed last year. This was just before the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation released their vacancy rate figures for Regina and all indications were pointing towards good news.

So before Whitworth officially signed off on what I’d be writing for that issue (which turned out to be nothing) I scurried off and did a couple interviews. In the end, that sum up of the housing market became a blurb in  January’s “Ear In Review” issue and I only had space to use two tiny quotes from over an hour’s worth of conversations.

Always bugs me to leave so much on the cutting room floor, so here’s one of those interviews I did in anticipation of a much longer housing feature.¹ It’s with Peter Gilmer of Regina’s Anti-Poverty Mission. I’ve spoken to him about housing many, many times over the last few years so it seemed appropriate to check in with him now that CHMC says that our vacancy rate has reached 1.8 per cent — up from a low of 0.6 per cent just a couple years ago.

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Prairie Dog: So, the CMHC numbers are out and our vacancy rate is 1.8 per cent. Meanwhile, council is talking about how many new rental units are being built, city administration is talking about how the market has turned around… I guess it’s time to break out the champagne, eh?

Peter Gilmer: Well, obviously it’s cold comfort for the many people who are looking for affordable housing right now. It’s still way below the three per cent balanced market.² And the other interesting thing is that there’s always been the assumption that there’s this straight out correlation between increases in the vacancy rate and affordability. And what we see with the CMHC numbers is that while there has been improvements in terms of the vacancy rate, the actual increases in rental costs are not slowing down any. So while there might be more availability there’s still a long way to go on the affordability side. For folks like those who were recently given notice at the Viva Apartments this is cold comfort with the thought of having to look for a new affordable place when that just isn’t available.

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Capital Pointe: Something’s Happening

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As you’ve probably already observed with your own eyes, either by passing through our fine city, or via, here, here, and here, something’s finally happening around the Capital Pointe site at Victoria and Albert – though, technically, not on it. In a nutshell, Sask Power has begun the process of moving an electrical duct (work that has to be completed in order for construction to begin on Capital Pointe itself) and traffic is being rerouted around the area.

So, while Sask Power’s subcontractor is beavering away, it must have seemed like as good an excuse as any for a photo-op. Which is what happened at 10am this morning* when the developers, BrightStar Corporation, made a “major media announcement”. In the end, that announcement wasn’t so much about construction as it was about their new partner: Augustine Group, a developer based in Niagara Falls, ON.

BrightStar’s VP and Capital Pointe’s project director Greg Black said that they’d taken the project “as far as they could”, and had arrived at a point where they felt they had to bring a new partner on board to start construction.

According to Brian Tilley, Augustine Group’s VP of sales and marketing, they are now the controlling shareholder of Capital Pointe. They expect to start construction on the site after Sask Power is finished with their electrical infrastructure work – in about 5 months – with occupancy now anticipated for Fall 2015.

But, in terms of how Capital Pointe itself has progressed, it doesn’t appear that much has changed. According to Tilley, they are still only 40 per cent sold, and they have yet to secure a buyer for the hotel – though they say they are in serious negotiations with five interested parties, and should be making an announcement about the hotel portion of the development in late June.

They also announced that they will make 36 new units available, starting at $189,000. These are being sold as studio suites, and will result in the development having a total of 180 residential suites, and 144 hotel rooms.

“All the less expensive suites sold out very quickly on the first launch,” Tilley said. “We believe, with the affordability of that price, and what rent prices are here — it’s crazy how high the rent is here — that product will be very, very affordable.”

Are they concerned about the lower price point of these units affecting the “luxury brand” of Capital Pointe?  “No,” Tilley said. “Because I think, at that price, even for the lower units, it’s still a luxury condominium.”

When one of the reporters assembled questioned whether construction had really started in earnest, when it’s Sask Power that is doing all the heavy lifting at the moment – not Augustine or BrightStar – Tilley responded: “Well, I see trucks moving dirt, and, to me, that’s construction.  We had to pay for this work to be done,” he said. “We’re not paying money to put a duct bank in if we’re not going to start construction.” He declined to disclose how much Sask Power has been paid to start this electrical work, but according to a statement from Sask Power last fall, the developers had to pay a deposit to start this infrastructure work, not the entire amount.

So… something’s happening at the Capital Pointe site. And, as usual, we’ll find out what it’ll mean in a few months time.

Prairie Dog will follow up on this story in a future print issue.

(photo: BrightStar Corporation’s Greg Black (left) passes the Capital Pointe torch to Augustine Group’s Brian Tilley).

*Prairie Dog prides itself on bringing you breaking news, as it happens!

This Week At City Hall: Four Things I Wanted To See At Day One Of The Mayor’s Housing Summit [UPDATED]

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This Week at City Hall

Above is a pic of the lunch spread the Sask Hotel put on for attendees of the Mayor’s Housing Summit. It looked pretty awesome but I decided to bail on the lunch-hour keynote address and get street food instead.¹

I don’t think I missed much that’d interest me. Apart from the food.

The keynote was given by CBC’s Amanda Lang, one half of the Lang and O’Leary Exchange,² and was titled after her recently released book, The Power of Why. Sounds like one of those self-help books for business people. And it probably had less to do with housing in Saskatchewan than the standy-uppy thing in the Plaza at which I ate my hotdog.

So, yeah. Great looking lunch. Less-great looking keynote. A mixed bag, in other words. Kind of how I felt about the first day of the Housing Summit over all.

Of course my ambivalence might have been coloured by the fact that the day started out really, really well, and the second things started to drag a bit I snuck out. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on what inspired me to leave and not focusing enough on the stuff in the morning that I found inspiring.

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