A Decade-Long Abandonment of Social Housing in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is facing a housing crisis and steep rise in homelessness. This has occurred at a time when the Provincial Social Housing Portfolio is experiencing high and unprecedented vacancy rates. Meanwhile, many people in Saskatchewan spend more and more of their income on housing and struggle to access suitable and affordable housing.

2012 marked the beginning of a process whereby the Sask Party Provincial Government began withdrawing financial support for government-owned housing.

The reductions have been dramatic with far reaching impacts. In a recent report, Meara has broken down the impacts into five key categories.

First, it has caused a decline in the budget allotted for maintaining and modernizing existing units.

Second, a number of policy changes and program cuts have further undermined the mandate of the Social Housing Portfolio and aggravated the housing crisis.

Third, in direct correlation to these dramatic funding reductions, vacancy rates in social housing have skyrocketed from under 6-7% in 2012 (which was mainly due to declining populations in rural communities) to over 18% in total, close to 14% in Saskatoon, and over 23% in Regina, 27% in Estevan, 29% in Meadow Lake, 23% in the Battlefords, and 17% in Prince Albert. The increase in senior housing vacancies has risen over 1000%. Meanwhile, homelessness has increased substantially across the province.

Fourth, the Province has sold off over 600 units including in major cities, and the current situation is resulting in extreme fiscal waste. About $600 Million provincial owned assets are sitting idle at present (the Portfolio is valued at 3.3B and 18.05% of it currently sits vacant), 139M in rent revenue has been lost, 33M has been spent on wasted utilities and 22M has been paid out on grants in lieu of taxes for unused units.

Finally, these funding reductions have had significant impacts on municipalities struggling to fill the gap. The Province has reduced its contribution to the housing portfolio as much as 80%. Coupled with a steep reduction in the availability of other housing supports, and the new SIS program, the current housing crisis has ballooned and contributed to the steep rise in homelessness.

The current approach has greatly impacted the overall social and economic situation in many Saskatchewan cities for the worse, diminishing their usability and quality of life. Apart from the idle assets, wasted subsidies and expenditures, and foregone rent revenues, the cost of this housing crisis extends to all major systems and often disproportionally fall to municipalities. These include costs to health, policing, frontline EMS and fire, as well as increasing the burden on already struggling community-based organizations.

Read Meara’s full report here