NDP wants senior housing repaired, bedbugs eliminated

The NDP is calling on the government to repair the run-down social and seniors housing it owns and properly get rid of the bedbugs.

“Families are approaching the Opposition to describe horrible bedbug infestations in seniors housing, and a real struggle getting the government to properly treat the problem,” said NDP Housing critic David Forbes. “It’s not acceptable for the government to become a shoddy landlord. Most importantly, it puts seniors’ health at risk, and by letting provincial assets become run down it also costs taxpayers much more in the long run.”

Adelle Bryson, 80, lives in a government-owned social housing building for seniors at 2121 Rose St. in Regina. Her family says bedbugs moved in at least seven months ago, and she can’t sleep there anymore.

The authorities are requiring Bryson, who is frail and uses an oxygen tank, to pack up her belongings, disassemble and move her furniture and take all her possessions to a drycleaner herself before they’ll come in to treat the unit for bedbugs. Since they won’t do the whole building, leaving infested common areas and suites untreated, the family worries the effort and expense will be wasted when the bugs return.

“I just want my mom to be safe and comfortable,” said Bryson’s son, Jim Bryson. “She’s on a small pension and doesn’t have the ability to take everything she owns to a dry cleaner or to move her own furniture. What about all the seniors in that building that don’t have family that can help? Those seniors will suffer, and the bugs from their suites will come right back into mom’s suite making the cost, the effort and displacement of mom all for nothing.”

Bryson says the government should do it once and do it right when it comes to eliminating bedbugs. The bedbugs aren’t the only problem at 2121 Rose St., he added. Cabinets are falling apart and the air quality has been so bad that his mom was hospitalized in January 2014 as a result.

Overall, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation has cut the maintenance budget to $48.3 million in 2014, compared to a peak of $93.4 million in 2011. Housing authorities have complained about the province slashing their budgets for maintenance. For example, the Earl Grey Housing Authority says its 2014 maintenance budget for six units was just $550, down from $1,475 in 2013.

“Enough is enough,” said Forbes. “This government is dropping the ball on the basics when it comes to safe, affordable housing, and it’s unacceptable. It should never have come to this, but now the government needs to repair the damage, get rid of the bedbugs and put a proactive plan in place to maintain what we own.”

2121 Rose St. is a social housing building for seniors, and each tenant’s rent is based on one-third of their monthly income.  It’s operated by the Regina Housing Authority, which is funded by the provincial government.

Saskatchewan needs more affordable housing, not none

Unable to keep up with the need for affordable housing, the government has decided to get rid of it all – a decision the NDP says is backward.

The government announced Thursday it will eliminate affordable housing, and now only offer social housing – a program designed for only the very lowest income and vulnerable people, such as those who are unable to work, homeless or victims of domestic violence.

The thousands of struggling low-income families who have previously qualified for affordable housing – an income-tested housing category that provides housing at below market rates – will have nowhere to turn.

“Basically, what the government is saying with this announcement is that if you’re low-income and struggling, tough luck. You’re on your own. You no longer have options through the government,” said David Forbes, NDP Social Services critic. “Social housing is important, as it serves the most vulnerable. But, there are a lot of families that are working, but struggling to make ends meet, and they need that affordable housing option.

“We know we need more affordable housing, not none.”

With the government’s announcement, about 1,400 families living in affordable housing will see their rents increase. If they refuse to leave their affordable homes, their rents will be raised repeatedly to force them out, according to the government. The background material from the government says it will use rent increases to “incent” families to leave.

“There is a huge need for more affordable housing in Saskatchewan,” said Forbes. “Yet, this is the government that decided to sell 300 homes from the affordable housing program. Then they gave away an apartment building of affordable units as a favour to the developer, Devereaux Homes, and the minister said it wasn’t a concern because she didn’t believe there were desperate homeless people in Saskatchewan. MLA Colleen Young stated publicly that she doesn’t want the government in the affordable housing business.

“This government should have been trying to build enough affordable housing to give families a fair shot at success. Instead, they’re been trying to duck this responsibility – and that’s so out of touch with what Saskatchewan needs.”

CTV Regina:

Government more concerned about its friends than those who desperately need housing: NDP

Some Saskatchewan families need an affordable place to live – a reality this out-of-touch government doesn’t understand, according to comments it made following the revelation it’s choosing to walk away from a 48-unit affordable housing development.

Minister of Social Services Donna Harpauer dismissed the government’s decision to ditch the affordable housing project by saying Tuesday, “you’re assuming that there’s these desperate homeless people.”

Harpauer defended the government’s decision to allow the developer to break the affordable housing contract with the government, penalty-free, by saying “I think that our relationship with [the private developer] warrants the fact that we don’t thump on them when they’ve had a misfortune.”

NDP Leader Cam Broten called the comments disgusting.

“For the Social Services Minister to question whether homeless people in our province are actually desperate for housing is absolutely ridiculous,” said Broten. “It screams of a government that is completely out of touch with the reality for some families. But what’s especially shocking is that this government is using its relationship with the private developer as the reason it abandoned this project and let the developer commercialize it. Clearly this government’s top priority is looking out for its own friends and insiders. That’s completely unacceptable.”

The government sold off 40 housing units in Regina that were previously set aside for low-income residents, with plans to sell another 260. Those units were supposed to be replaced by this new project. But, when the private developer tallied a four per cent cost overrun on its construction, the government allowed it to break its fixed pricing contract without penalty so it could make more money by commercializing the units and charging much higher prices for them.

“It’s frustrating enough that this government can’t get the job done on affordable housing,” said Broten. “But it’s appalling that this government is more worried about its friends than it is about vulnerable people in our society. What exactly is it about the relationship between this government and this particular private developer that’s so special? The government should explain that.”

Government’s failure to enforce contract means end of affordable housing project

The government has walked away from a new 48-unit affordable housing project in Regina, and is now allowing the private developer to rent out the units at full market price instead.

The government sold off 40 housing units in Regina that were previously set aside for low-income residents. Those units were supposed to be replaced by this project. But then the government decided to turn this project over to the private developer because of a four per cent cost overrun on its construction.

“It’s frustrating that this government can’t get the job done on affordable housing,” said David Forbes, NDP housing critic. “This government needs to give a better explanation for why it just handed this project over to the private developer. It’s not fair for the private company to have the government insure and underwrite the construction project and then, for that same private company, to break the contract and be allowed to commercialize the project on their own.”

The NDP says the government should have stood strong and, if necessary, taken the private developer to court in order to enforce the fixed-price contract it had in place.

“It’s basic common sense that any contract should be clear and enforceable and, if there’s still a major disagreement about it, the contract should be able to withstand scrutiny in court,” said Forbes. “So there must have been significant problems with the government’s contract with the developer. Why else would this government just walk away from a much-needed housing project like this?”

Forbes said this mess up is just the latest bad deal between the government and the private companies it selects for projects.

“The government enters into these weak contracts with private companies, and whenever those deals go bad, it’s Saskatchewan people that pay the price,” said Forbes. “We’re seeing that with the $47 million smart meter fiasco, we’re seeing that with this failed affordable housing project, and we’re bound to see it with this government’s private rent-a-school scheme for P3 schools. Enough is enough. Saskatchewan people deserve so much better than this.”

Anti-poverty strategy debated in Legislature

Joe Couture, The StarPhoenix, March 12, 2014

The provincial Opposition on Tuesday echoed calls from anti-poverty groups for the Saskatchewan government to develop a provincewide poverty reduction strategy.

“Other provinces have had good success by implementing antipoverty strategies and there is no question that Saskatchewan needs a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.

“There have been many calls for this over the years, including from Poverty Free Saskatchewan and now Poverty Costs,” Opposition social services critic David Forbes said during question period at the Legislative Building in Regina.

Forbes called on the government to announce funding in next week’s provincial budget to support the formation of an all-party special committee to develop an anti-poverty strategy.

Social Services Minister June Draude responded by defending the government’s record since it was elected in 2007.

“Since 2007, our government has reduced the number of low-income people more than any other province in Canada, including all of those that have a poverty strategy. What we are talking about is action to deliver results. Working together is an important part of

what we’re doing,” Draude said.

She said the number of lowincome people in the province declined by 16 per cent during the former NDP government’s last seven years, while the Sask. Party government has reduced the figure by 30 per cent in six years. “We agree there’s always more work to be done and we’ll learn from other jurisdictions,” the minister added.

Government must fix bed bugs in seniors housing

August 02, 2013 · NDP caucus communications

Heritage Towers, a Saskatchewan Housing Authority seniors home in Swift Current, has a beg bug infestation and residents say the government is ignoring the problem.

Hilda Wiese, an 84-year-old resident of the towers, is one of the seniors who had to leave her home because of the infestation. She describes minimal effort in dealing with the problem – including treating only the rooms of seniors who complained – excluding other seniors’ rooms, common areas and hallways.

Wiese is currently back at home in Heritage Towers, but has cancelled her home care and is afraid to have visitors for fear the bedbugs are still in her room or will re-enter her room from the untreated hallways, common areas and neighbouring rooms.

“I’m just lucky that I have family members nearby who can help me, some people have no place to go,” said Wiese. “We deserve better.”

NDP Leader Cam Broten, who has been outspoken on the critical need to fix the conditions in Saskatchewan’s seniors care homes, wants the government to consider the problem a priority.

“Our parents, our grandmas and grandpas, deserve clean, safe homes,” he said. “To hear that this government is half-heartedly or even selectively dealing with this problem is a serious concern. This is yet another example of the kind of neglect that is becoming rampant in seniors care.”

Tenants Seek Help with Big Rent Hike; Minister Says Rent Control Not an Option

The Canadian Press – March 6, 2013,

Residents of a Regina apartment block say they feel like “faceless people” and are frustrated after their building was recently sold to a Calgary company that has implemented massive rent hikes.

In some cases, the tenants say, rents are going up 77 per cent.

Pat Colpitts, a senior who has lived in the building for nine years, says the rent on her small two bedroom apartment is $675, but come Sept. 1 it will jump to $1,195.

“Totally shocked,” Colpitts says of the increase.

“We knew there would be an increase because it’s new owners, but we weren’t expecting $520, maybe $100, maybe $200. But that’s it for me. I’ll be moving out, there’s no ifs, ands or buts.”

“It is financially impossible to stay there, for me, and I would think a lot of other tenants as well,” she added.

Colpitts and a handful of other tenants went to the Saskatchewan legislature Tuesday to plead for help. They want the province to bring in rent control.

Justice Minister Gord Wyant said Thursday that the rent hike was “an exceptional circumstance,” adding that most increases in the province are in the two to four per cent range.

However, Wyant said rent control is off the table.

“We believe that it’s a disincentive to improving properties, it’s a disincentive to the establishment and for the building of new rental accommodations and we’ve seen that across the province and we’ve seen that across the country,” he said.

But the minister said there might be other options for the tenants through the Saskatchewan Rental Industry Housing Association.

“Perhaps there’s some other (solution), maybe phasing it in. There’s lots of solutions that could potentially could be arranged between the parties,” he said.

“And if that doesn’t work, then the program will provide some assistance in trying to find alternate accommodations.”

The Calgary-based Castle Mountain Properties gave the proper six months notice for the increase, said Wyant.

Landlords who belong to the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Industry Association have to give six months notice of rent increases. Other landlords have to give 12 months notice, under legislation passed by the Saskatchewan Party government.

New Democrat David Forbes, who raised the issue in the legislature, says there’s nothing to stop other landlords from making massive hikes as well.

“These new regulations that they’ve put into place, these new laws, doesn’t really help,” said Forbes.

“It may make them feel better, but it doesn’t really help because at the end of the day you do have to pay your rent or move and this is what’s happening. In a sense, it really is an eviction notice.”

No Rent Controls for Saskatchewan, Government Says

CBC News – March 5, 2013

The provincial government says it will not implement a system of rent control in Saskatchewan, when asked at the legislature about the plight of a group of tenants in Regina who received notices of steep rent hikes.

The residents of an apartment building on Robinson Street were given notices of rent hikes, to take effect in six months, that average around 77 per cent.

Opposition NDP members of the legislature raised the issue Tuesday.

“Will the minister do the right thing and institute rent control to stop gouging renters here in Saskatchewan?” David Forbes asked the province’s minister of justice.

However, the minister said rent controls can have negative consequences.

“We believe that it’s a disincentive to improving properties,” Gord Wyant said. “it’s a disincentive to the establishment and for the building of new rental accommodations and we’ve seen that across the province and we’ve seen that across the country.”

Wyant added that he believes most rent increases have been around three to four per cent.

Wyant offered to meet with the affected tenants personally and has also set up a meeting for them with the rentalsman’s office.

Pat Colpitts, a senior who has lived in the building on the 2200 block of Robinson Street for nine years, says the rent on her small two bedroom apartment is $675, but come Sept. 1 it will jump to $1,195.

“Totally shocked,” Colpitts said of the increase. “We knew there would be an increase because it’s new owners, but we weren’t expecting $520. Maybe $100, maybe $200. But that’s it for me. I’ll be moving out, there’s no ifs, ands or buts.”

CBC News contacted the Regina management company that has been taking care of the building and was told the owner is Castle Mountain Properties, based in Calgary.

According to the management company, the hikes affecting the Robinson Street property are the highest they have seen.

Kathy Berner, of Regency Property Management, said they look after about 800 suites in the city and in the past have only seen gradual increases in rents with the highest being around 10 to 15 per cent.

Berner said the biggest increases in Regina took place in 2007 and 2008.

CBC News placed calls to the Calgary owners of the building but had not heard back from anyone as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to Wyant, Castle Mountain Properties gave the proper six months notice for the increase.

Landlords who belong to the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Industry Association have to give six months notice of rent increases. Other landlords have to give 12 months notice.


Social Housing Program Changes

On July 24th, the Sask Party Government announced it would be making program changes to the Social Housing program in Saskatchewan.

There are five major changes:

1. New Eligibility Criteria

  • No eligibility criteria currently exist around income or asset levels.
  • New criteria will include maximum income and asset criteria
  • Changes will not apply to existing tenants

2. Prioritization of Applicants

  • Current prioritization of applicants puts the greatest emphasis on affordability
  • The new criteria adds things like the safety and condition of the household’s existing dwelling, whether their current home is overcrowded, and consideration for those who are homeless or victims of domestic abuse.

3. Changes to the Rent Scale

  • Currently, rent is determined based on a complex Graduated Rent Scale that has some households paying different income levels for their rent than others.
  • Most tenants will now be charged rents at 30 per cent of adjusted household income, which is consistent with the CMHC National Affordability Standard (“adjusted” refers to the exclusion of benefits such as Federal and Provincial benefits for children, seniors or persons with disabilities such as Universal Child Care benefit or the Senior Income Plan)
  • This change will create more transparent rental rates and be fairer to both existing and prospective tenants.

4. Changes to the Maximum Rental Rate

  • Currently, rental rates are capped at $800 regardless of income level.
  • Nearly 800 households living in social housing units currently have their rent capped at $800, despite having income levels that would otherwise put them at rents above the cap. This includes a minimum of 15 households with incomes over $100,000 per year.
  • Removing the cap should incent these households to move to the private market and create more spaces for those with the greatest housing need.

5. Changes to the Minimum Rental Rate

  • Currently, minimum rent is $100/month despite the fact the minimum shelter benefit from the Ministry of Social Services is $314/month.
  • New tenants will pay a new minimum of $314 and be encouraged to access the full benefits available to them.