REGINA - Regina’s Executive Committee has given its approval this week to updates to its 2024 Housing Incentives Policy.
The changes, approved at Wednesday's meeting in a unanimous council vote, are aimed at getting funding in place sooner and providing some greater flexibility to applicants for housing projects, with a goal of getting more affordable housing units built in the city of Regina.
Several amendments came forward at the meeting to update the policy. The first is to allow conditional funding commitments earlier in project development. During the meeting, administration explained that not having the City of Regina involved in funding a project right from the start causes issues for proponents in seeking out other funding later on in the process.
Mayor Sandra Masters told reporters the amendment addresses “the issues around getting projects approved faster, so that they can access funding from other levels of government as opposed to us coming in last. It is important, often they want to know if the city’s involved, the province is involved, the feds are involved — everybody asks those questions of the three levels of government.”
Another amendment is aimed at allowing applicants flexibility in which units will be affordable, as long as the same number of units, and the same type of units are maintained as affordable as what is outlined during the term of the funding agreement.
Masters explained to reporters that “sometimes we design policy which is ineffective because of a zoning regulation.”
This is “really to allow administration the flexibility to ensure that the intent of the program, which is to get more affordable housing units into market, is achieved. So I think fundamentally those amendments are good.”
Another amendment allows those unallocated housing incentive program funds from previous years to be committed in subsequent years. Housing Incentive Program capital grants are funded through a $1.5 million annual allocation from the Social Development Reserve, and what this would do is allow those unallocated funds to be committed in those years when applications exceed the $1.5 million.
Masters noted there was a $2.9 million carry-forward from that reserve, which would make over $4.4 million available to projects under this program.
There will also be quarterly reports to keep the public and council informed as well. The hope is all the changes will achieve the goal of getting more affordable housing units into market sooner in the city of Regina.
“We know we’ve had a very low rental vacancy rate when it comes to new housing units. And so getting more rental units into market is vitally important, I think, for rent to stay at a lower rate as opposed to having to increase it all the time based on demand and a short supply.”
The City of Regina has been focused this year toward taking advantage of opportunities under the federal Housing Accelerator Fund, which is aimed at speeding up approvals to get more affordable housing projects off the ground sooner.
“How it sort of dovetails with our Housing Incentive Program is removing barriers that we’ve created, for whatever reason — removing those barriers to allow for permitting and construction to get started,” said Masters.
Masters said they want to “incentivize folks to create affordable housing units within their projects… why it’s good for them is so when we incentivize and provide grant money, we know construction costs have gone up, we know interest rates have gone up. So to know we can be a partner in this, to actually help facilitate and cover some of those costs, and actually supplement on a per door basis, keeping those rents at a low level according to what the formula is. That’s really where it’s critical is to basically subsidize that affordable rent in new rental units.”
The amendments approved at Executive Committee on Wednesday will come back to council for final approval.