The candidates in Weyburn’s municipal election have differing views on what degree of involvement city council should have in addressing the city’s housing issue, but most do agree the city should have a part in helping resolve the issue of availability.
Debra Button, the incumbent candidate in the mayoral race, said, “First and foremost, we have to set the stage so development can occur.”
To meet this objective, she said, the city made a bylaw change to allow for smaller lot sizes, and later made a bylaw change to allow for the development of secondary suites in homes for rental purposes.
With the four-piece housing initiative released recently by the city’s housing advisory committee, Button notes that some people will need some financial assistance to help with their housing needs, “however we want to have checks and balances in place so we know that city funds will go to the people who need it.”
Button also admitted that there were discussions amongst council members about just what role the city could or should play in the housing issue, or whether it should be left up to market forces to decide such issues as availability and affordability.
“Our goal with the advisory committee was to increase the supply of affordable housing, and I think what we’re doing is working,” said Button.
Her challenger, Bruce Croft, was unable to be reached for comment.
For council incumbent Dick Michel, one of the issues he sees as difficult is that of affordability, as it’s impossible to nail down the question, “what is affordable?”
“The answers are all over the map. I think the city has really addressed the housing issue with the plans from the advisory committee,” he said.
“There’s good competition on for lots, and with apartment buildings, there is one apartment building which has been started with an incentive, and that was in partnership with the government and city to provide more affordable housing,” said Michel.
“Does the city have a part to play? Absolutely, but it has to be in partnership with the government. We can’t do it all by ourselves,” he added, noting the growth the city is seeing is “exciting to me.”
Incumbent Winston Bailey feels council has an important role to play in regards to the issue of housing, as they have the ability to provide an incentive to builders of rental property.
He feels the housing initiatives announced by the city’s housing advisory committee “is a good start” as it addresses four important areas, such as first-time home owners and rental development.
Bailey is also critical of a recent council decision to double development fees, saying, “I was not in favour of us going that high. Hopefully we can continue giving contractors help to offset their costs. We’ve made a really good suggestion to help people, and turned around and crippled it a bit” by doubling the development fees from $40,000 to $80,000 an acre.
“It’ll definitely be an issue for the new council, if I’m elected,” he said.
Rob Stephanson admitted he struggles with the concept of city council being involved in something where market forces dictate largely what happens.
“I would see our role is trying to keep the costs of the landlord and property owners at as affordable a level as we can, such as with property taxes, utilities and so on,” he said, adding, “That may not be a direct impact on housing.”
In terms of affordability, said Stephanson, “I struggle with that as everyone’s definition is different on that. As a council, we can’t control people who have an 80-year-old home that because of the market can be sold for $200,000. I struggle with people saying that’s our fault. These people are selling for what the market rate is.”
He said what the city can do is try and ensure there is a good supply of housing, including of rental properties. If there’s a good supply, then there will be competition for lower prices.
Incumbent Nancy Styles noted the housing issue came up three years ago at the candidates forum, and after the election an advisory committee was formed which just delivered a four-part initiative.
She feels this program deals with availability, noting the first apartment building is now being built, the first one in her six years on council, as well as bylaw changes for secondary suites and smaller lots.
While these address availability, “not necessarily affordability, as unfortunately that is dictated by the market and interest rates. Plus we live in kind of a bubble here in the southeast.”
New candidate Laura Morrissette said she is pleased with the work of the advisory committee, and added, “We need, as a council, to do what we can to develop rentals. I think we need to work closely with administration to see what concessions can be made to help rental properties, so we need to figure out how to make it more enticing.”
For new candidate Connie Nightingale, “The housing shortage is a stark reality for our community; rentals are currently at zero with tenant waiting lists a mile long, real estate is at an all time high in the city and lots are currently being sold for what a house was once worth just years ago. This issue doesn’t just affect me and families wanting to move to this city but it is affecting our businesses too. Career and job listings are also at an all time high; the work is here but not the livability for the working class.”
“If elected to council, one of my main focuses will remain on the big picture when it comes to affordable housing, because this is an issue that impacts our community and I want to be part of the solution,” added Nightingale.
Candidate Mel Van Betuw feels that as a city, “I feel it is important we provide a welcome environment for new home development. I would like to see the city provide opportunities and guidance for local contractors and individuals to purchase land, so they are on a level playing field with larger external development.”
He added the city is “on the right track” in helping the public, adding, “It’s not an easy one to resolve.”
For candidate Barry Dickie, he feels the city has no control over escalating real estate prices, but the city can address the price of lots and their development. “Have we explored that enough? We have to have affordable housing to get people to move here. The city could help with lot prices and encouraging builders to come build apartment buildings.”