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Estimates - Community Resources (20 March 2007)

From Human Services Committee Hansard - 20 March 2007

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Community Resources
Supplementary Estimates

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Madam Chair. Minister, I was listening to your opening comments and I heard your reference to a youth facility on the Muskowekwan First Nations, and my understanding from your comments that some of this funding will be going to that facility. I wonder if you could just explain and expand your comments as to what actually is planned and how many dollars will be going to that facility and so on.

Hon. Mr. Belanger: — Again the information that you have expressed here is correct. There is $1 million set aside in the supplementary estimates and again, for the actual detail of which my officials have been working on the project for quite some time, it’s only fair then as opposed to me simply reiterating what they’re going to say, at the outset I’ll let them give you the information directly from them. So again I’d like to defer to the officials on this one.

Mr. Fisher: — Okay. The facility will be a replacement facility for an existing residential facility on Muskowekwan and it will be administered by the Touchwood, Qu’Appelle, Yorkton tribal child welfare agencies. The current planning would call for a 24-bed replacement facility.

Mr. Hart: — When do you anticipate that construction will begin on this new facility?

Mr. Fisher: — Well we’re hopeful that construction can begin as quickly as possible. There has been some preliminary work done by the bands. They have a project manager engaged. They’ve done some preliminary schematic design for the facility. With the approval of this $1 million in the supplementary estimates, we will become formally engaged in the process as well through Sask Housing and, you know, it’s just a question of how quickly we can pull all the design features together and agree on the best project that we can deliver.

Mr. Hart: — From what you said, would it be fair to say that the building will be owned and operated by the tribal council and your department will be providing some of the funding? Are there other partners that are also contributing to the funding — the band council, the federal government? What is the anticipated total cost of this facility? And if there is funding from other sources, what are those other sources and what are the approximate amounts of funding?

Mr. Fisher: — Well again we are talking preliminary estimates at this point, but I think the preliminary work that’s been done would have a project in excess of $3 million. The province, in the supplementary estimates, has identified $1 million, up to $1 million to contribute to this project. The balance will come from the bands. And they are also in discussion with the federal government about contributions as well.

Mr. Hart: — Okay good. Thank you for that information. On another topic dealing with Sask Housing, I was just looking at one of the most recent annual report, and there’s discussions within that report about affordable housing to low- and modest-income families, households. The discussion was centred around the centenary affordable housing program. And just for my information and for the record, what is Sask Housing’s definition first of all of a low-income household? And then I guess second to that, what’s the figure for a modest-income?

Mr. Jones: — I’ll start out with respect to the low-income household. We rely on some work that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation does where they establish what’s called household income limits. And it’s essentially households that are or would be challenged based on the current market conditions and be paying more than 30 per cent of their income for housing based on some modelling that they do relative to the marketplace.

So the housing income limits currently, and there’s quite a schedule here so I’ll see if I can figure out how to summarize this for you. It is based of course then on location as well because the market conditions vary throughout the province.

I’ll maybe just give you the typical three bedroom kind of environment. So in urban centres it would be 27,500. Southern centres — the definition here is different, what that means in terms of geographic area — 35,500; in northern areas 39,500. So that captures the . . . for low-income households.

And then for moderate-income households, I think you were looking for as well. That goes up to, in southern communities up to . . . we have two zones there — 44,500 for families; 41,000 for seniors. And for zone 2, which is the northern communities, 62,000 for families and 51,000 for seniors.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you. I guess I could have simplified it a bit and asked you your definition of low income for seniors, say for a couple in rural Saskatchewan and in urban Saskatchewan, and I guess what we would term the southern portion of the province. Perhaps that would simplify it and give me a better understanding of those terms.

Mr. Jones: — A lot of times the allowances are based on bedroom requirement. So if it’s a single senior or seniors that require one bedroom then you would be at 28,500 in the southern centres.

Mr. Hart: — Great, thank you. Another question that I would have is in rural Saskatchewan, and this is true in my constituency, we have a number of small communities that Sask Housing owns housing units — whether they be duplexes or multi-unit facilities.

And I’m aware of at least a few communities in rural Saskatchewan where these facilities are, frankly, aren’t being used or at least a number of them aren’t being used. And I’m also aware that some of the smaller units are, I believe, are being offered for sale or have been put up for sale.

The question that I have got from constituents is, what is Sask Housing planning on doing with the multi-unit facilities? I can think of some that have perhaps six suites in them plus a common room and there, you know, and there isn’t anybody living in some of these. So what I’m asking is, what are your plans in the near and intermediate future for these facilities?

Mr. Jones: — As part of HomeFirst when we introduced it in 2004, one of the components was what we call our better use program. And so particularly we’ve identified and hope to transition about 1,000 units that are chronically vacant — predominantly in rural Saskatchewan where we’ve seen a decrease in population — and either sell these housing units or find a better solution for the housing units in the community.

We’ve had very good success to date. We’ve seen about 220 housing units where we’ve sold. And the vast majority of them to date have ended up being and creating home ownership opportunities in the communities. So it’s actually gone over very well. We’ve been very pleased with the progress. And not only has it created home ownership opportunities, but essentially what I would term as a very affordable home ownership opportunities for people that are wanting to continue to make their home in the community.

So that’s certainly our first priority, and we’ve been able to partner our home ownership programming so if a person doesn’t have the down payment and so forth, we can also assist them financially to participate in a home ownership opportunity. So it’s been very fruitful so far.

As we continue to progress, it does become more challenging because we get into the multi-unit dwellings. We have sold some of the semi-detached senior units that you described, and those have gone for home ownership in many cases as well. People turn them into three-bedroom homes and use creative solutions. So it’s worked out really well.

We’ll put out a request for proposal on some of the multi-unit dwellings to the community and the surrounding area to see what kind of ideas can come out of the community and their area for the multiple-unit projects. And we will sell those as well. And we’ll work closely with the community if it makes sense to relocate the housing units to another community where there is demand.

Certainly we want to make sure that, as we call it, make the best use and the better use out of the housing that exists there. So sometimes it makes sense to relocate as well.

Mr. Hart: — Have you relocated many or any of the multi-unit facilities?

Mr. Jones: — We’ve done some multi-unit. As soon as you get into multi-unit, it becomes more costly and sometimes then becomes cost prohibitive. So we’ve done predominantly semi-detached units, but we have done some bigger projects historically.

We haven’t done any real big projects in the last couple of years because we have been doing some of this for a period of time now. We’ve accelerated our effort in the last couple of years. So if it makes economic sense to move a multi-unit, we will look at it and consider it, again with heavy consultation with the community.

Mr. Hart: — In those instances where multi-unit complexes were moved, I understood you to say that they were moved perhaps to a neighbouring town where there is demand, and I know that’s the situation in a number of areas of rural Saskatchewan.

If a situation exists where there’s a vacant facility in one town and maybe a town or two down the highway there’s a community that requires more senior housing, what would be the process to get this whole relocation initiative started? What would you recommend to those housing authorities that need more units and have identified some vacant ones that they could use, you know, very effectively in their community? How would they start that process?

Mr. Jones: — Well certainly we’re obviously quite engaged with communities that have the chronic vacancies. We’re working with most of those communities. So they’d be aware of their situation obviously. And then communities that feel they have a need, an ongoing need, if they can let us know, make us aware, contact Sask Housing Corporation. And particularly if they were interested in taking on a kind of regional approach because, if you can take a regional approach, then it seems to work better all the way around.

And we do have a particular case where we approved a project in the Hanley area actually quite recently, where we’re moving a project, I think, it’s into Hanley from a neighbouring community. But the project we’re moving in, this is under the centenary affordable housing program; it’s not actually part of our existing portfolio. It’s a different portfolio, and it’s coming into Hanley. So I mean it can be quite effective.

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