As Michael Fougere is sworn in as the new mayor of Regina, two of his top priorities are to host a housing summit to address the lack of affordable housing and to move forward with an ambitious plan for downtown redevelopment.
“We have one of the lowest vacancy rates of any major city in Canada at 0.6 per cent,” he said.
“There are too many people coming into the city and the lack of affordable housing is a constraint on growth.”
Fougere will be sworn in as mayor-elect of Regina on Nov. 5 and has already resigned his position as president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Regina’s vacancy rate was 0.60 per cent in April 2012, which represents a 0.10 per cent decrease from April 2011, when the vacancy rate was 0.70 per cent.
This is the second year in a row that CMHC has identified Regina as the city with the lowest rental vacancy rate in the country.
In Saskatoon, the vacancy rate also went down to 3.1 per cent from 3.4 per cent last year.
The tight housing market in Regina has also caused the average rent on a two bedroom unit to increase by $50 to $948 compared to last year.
Fougere said the city has invested $11.5 million in tax exemptions to encourage the construction of low income housing over the last six years.
However, this has had little impact on the problem.
“We need to find out why this is happening,” he said.
“We want to have a summit using the same format as the Infrastructure Summit, which would bring together the federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as community groups and the development community to solve the problem. It’s not about pointing fingers. It’s more about what we can do collectively to solve the problem.”
The summit is tentatively scheduled to take place sometime over next year or two.
Fougere supports the Regina Revitalization Initiative, which includes 700 new market and affordable housing units and a new open-air football stadium at Evraz Place.
He was the only candidate to support a deal between the city, the province and the Saskatchewan Roughrider Football Club to provide funding for the construction of the new stadium.
The deal identifies funding that would support the required $278 million capital construction cost, as well as the long-term maintenance of the facility, which is estimated at almost $230 million over 30 years.
The city is pursuing a conceptual design for the stadium, which will identify what type of stadium can be built and guide the Request for Proposals process.
The conceptual design will require the approval of the provincial government, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and city council prior to starting construction, which is expected in late 2013 or early 2014.
The stadium is scheduled for completion in 2017.
In addition, the city is analyzing a Public-Private Partnership procurement option, which will be considered by council for approval, prior to the formal initiation of the procurement process.
The Regina Revitalization Initiative also includes the redevelopment of 17.39 acres Canadian Pacific Railway land for new housing, commercial and retail use.
Earlier this month, Regina purchased the land from CP for $7.5 million.
An additional $2.1 million will also pay for environmental remediation and site clearing to allow for future development.
That cost includes removing two bridges across Broad Street that will no longer be needed. The deal is expected to be complete by the end of January.
“We will have a community contest or competition to determine how to develop the land,” said Fougere.
“This is a unique piece of land, so we want to ask the community what they would like to see.”
The city will start working with the community on a long-term plan to redevelop the area in 2013 and CP will relocate its operations by July 2014. The site is anticipated to be available for private development starting in 2015.
Since being elected, Fougere has resigned his position as the president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association.
“I will help find a successor, but I am not involved with it much anymore,” he said.
“We are in the middle of discussions and have a few people in mind, but it will be up to the board to make the final decision.”