With a booming resource sector in the southeast, the City of Weyburn is drawing workers from across the country. With limited housing though, migrants are finding that moving to Weyburn isn't an easy proposition. Jason Filz is one of the recent migrants to the city who is feeling the housing squeeze.
"We found something in town but it's very small," said Filz.
"We had to take what we could get but we have never stopped looking for something bigger," he added.
Filz moved from Winnipeg to the opportunity city in October of 2011, coming for a job in IT management. Unable to find a place to live when he first moved, Filz spent a very cold October and November living in a camper trailer parked near Lampman, making the daily commute to the city.
After two months of looking, the Manitoban found an apartment in town, moving himself and his wife into a one-bedroom apartment.
Now that the couple is expecting a baby they need to upgrade from the one-bedroom apartment to something bigger, but the search isn't going well.
With Weyburn's vacancy rate pegged at 0.7 per cent in October of 2010, and likely lower now, difficulty in finding a place to live is a sentiment echoed by many recent migrants. The lack of rental units is part of a larger trend of limited housing in Weyburn, especially affordable housing.
Half the population working in Weyburn needs access to smaller, entry-level houses, townhouses and condominiums in order to build their capacity and savings to move up in the housing market, according to a "Housing Needs and Demands" survey commissioned by the city and published in 2011.
The price of buying a house in Weyburn has more than doubled since 2006, moving from an average of $100,000 up to $240,000 in 2010. This has bumped Weyburn up on the "affordability index"; a measure of the average home price divided by the average yearly household income. The city now sits at 3.2 or moderately unaffordable on the scale, up from 2.0 or affordable in 2006.
With fewer entry-level homes on the market, low and medium income earning households are less inclined to buy a house instead of staying in rental accommodations. This, combined with increased demand for rental units by temporary workers in the area, has reduced the vacancy rate to near zero.
In the rental market, low and medium income earning households are at a disadvantage, competing with the temporary workers staying in the area who are often employed in lucrative resource industries.
"So many things that have come up are sky high. I don't want to pay $2,000 a month, I'm not out in the oil field making $50 an hour; the prices they are asking are ridiculous," said Filz.
Filz's one-bedroom apartment costs $800 a month, up from the $700 in rent he paid for his two-bedroom house in Winnipeg.
The housing problem is a relatively new one though, brought on by strong interest in the Bakken oil field starting in late 2007. The City of Weyburn isn't burying its head in the sand and ignoring the problem though, said Weyburn Mayor Debra Button.
"We knew we were growing quickly, we knew there were low rates of vacancy," said Button.
The city has already taken some heat on the issue of housing issue, said Rene Richard, director of engineering for the City of Weyburn. Much of the outrage expressed to the city was centred around the cost of buying a new housing lot.
With lot prices in the city's new Assiniboia Park subdivision in the $120,000-$125,000 range, the city was accused by some of "gouging" customers on the price. Richard maintains that couldn't be farther from the truth.
"It has never been about making money for us," said Richard.
"We knew that the prices were coming in higher, the costs to develop were getting higher and we were getting criticized in the public because of the lot prices," said Button, "Which we felt was unfair because we tender the work, and it's very easy to show someone how we arrive at those numbers," she added.
The city develops lots on a cost-recovery basis, said Button, as the city pays to develop lots, only recouping the costs through lot sales.
With continued calls for a reduction in lot pricing the city looked at a few options, even considering subsidizing new lots with taxpayer funds.
"As a taxpayer with a home that is over 100 years old, I wasn't keen on helping subsidize putting someone in a new home, and I don't think that the majority of people would have appreciated that," said Button.
"We also have to be mindful that we have seniors here on a fixed income. We're trying to move forward yet be mindful of who is in our community," said Button.
After examining options, the city chose to reduce the minimum size of lots in the city, going from lots with 60 feet of frontage to 30 feet of frontage. The smaller lot size means more lots can fit on a given acre, dividing the development costs between more properties and bringing down the cost of each lot.
"This was one way we were able to look at reducing cost so that people would be able to get into their own property and get some equity built up," said Button.
The city has also been criticized for its inability to supply lots in a timely manner.
"We were bringing lots on line and we were selling them as quickly as we could produce them and typically it was taking us two years to do a subdivision, and that just wasn't adequate so we knew that we needed to help," said Button.
To keep up with demand the city looked at attracting commercial developers into the region.
"We've also been very interested in getting some private developers into the community to do some work because the City of Weyburn didn't have the financial resources nor the staff resources to keep up with the demand," said Button.
One of the keys to attracting developers, said Button, were two reports commissioned by the city, in particular the "Housing Needs and Demands" survey published in 2011.
"We gave it out to developers and they were excited, they said, 'this is what we needed to know'," she said.
The city's efforts have shown some fruit as well, with several companies taking an interest in Weyburn. Nicor Developments alone is planning to open 600 new doors in their Riverwood subdivision.
With an increase in affordable housing, the mayor is hoping to see some migration of low and middle income earning households from rental accommodation to home ownership.
"We feel that we're making headway; we're not burying our heads in the sand and saying 'we've got no problem in Weyburn'," she added.
"Are we making headway? It depends if you are sitting comfortably in your home for 20 years, or if you are new to Weyburn and trying to get a rental property. I feel that we are making headway due to the fact that if we did nothing, nothing would change but we are acting," she added.
It's cold comfort for Filz who continues to race against other migrants in the search for affordable housing.
"People are renting places sight-unseen," said Filz.
" It's very stressful," said Filz, "It's not like I have been looking for a month or two months; I've been looking for nine months. I can find all kinds of places if I want to drop $2,000 a month, but I can't."