Regina city council is moving forward with another round of funding from the federal government’s rapid housing initiative (RHI), while taking a different approach as they try to avoid the controversy that has plagued previous projects.
On Wednesday, council voted 10-1 to authorize city manager Niki Anderson to enter into contribution agreements with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), which administers the federal program.
“This, too, is a good news story,” Coun. Bob Hawkins (Ward 2) said as he introduced the report.
The only “no” vote was cast by Coun. Terina Nelson (Ward 7).
LISTEN| Regina’s mayor talks about shelter for those without homes and previews next week’s budget talks
The Morning Edition – Sask12:47Regina’s mayor talks about shelter for those without homes and previews next week’s budget talks
What is the rapid housing initiative?
RHI is meant to facilitate the very quick construction of permanent affordable housing units for vulnerable populations. Funding can only be used for capital costs, but not operational expenses.
Eligible projects can include new construction, conversion of non-residential buildings and rehabilitation of housing units that are in disrepair, abandoned or currently uninhabitable.
Regina was among 41 cities that have been allocated funding for the third round of the initiative, according to a staff report presented to council.
In previous rounds of funding, the city made sure to pair the new housing with wrap-around services. However, that limited the number of organizations that could apply for the program, the staff report says.
This round will operate differently, Mayor Sandra Masters says.
“I think what we’re trying to get to — because it is very broad in terms of who can access or who can be a proponent or a not-for-profit can come forward … is everything from simply affordable units without supports to supportive housing, if that’s the case,” Masters said.
Unlike previous rounds of funding, CMHC will enter into a contribution agreement with the City of Regina before CMHC has a chance to review and approve proposed projects. This will allow more time for development and the submission of project applications, according to the city administration report.
It’s also necessary due to the very tight timelines outlined in the RHI. Applications are due by March 15, 2023 with the project required to be completed by November 2024.
In July 2021, $7.75 million in RHI funding was awarded to the city for 29 affordable housing units.
The units — located at 120 Broad Street — are meant for individuals and families transitioning away from homelessness and reintegrating into the community. It will be operated by Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services.
The project sparked a heated debate in front of council in January 2022.
Some residents in the surrounding area believed the units were set to be used as an emergency shelter.
That created a misconception that people would be coming and going constantly, or that people using the housing were dangerous, Erica Beaudin, executive director of Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services, said at the time.
The units also drew fire from Nelson, the councillor in charge of the ward where the units are located. She felt that there had not been enough consultation with the neighbourhood about the location.
Staff said the short timeline for approving the project as well as the necessity for secrecy around the project due to real estate dealings made a lengthy consultation difficult.
Avoid political involvement: councillor
The hope is that the changes to the program will allow the city to avoid the headache caused by the previous round of funding.
It was something echoed by Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens on Wednesday, who stressed this process should not involve councillors or municipal politicians.
“I don’t want to be jockeying for something like this to be in my ward or not, so I would prefer we were kept out of it as much as possible.
“We set the policy,” he said. “I trust you to do your job.”
Other councillors expressed concern over the selection process.
Staff said it’s hard for them to say where things might be located as it is based on applications.
However, according to RHI guidelines, the units must be remain affordable for 20 years while at least 25 per cent of funding must be targeted to women or women and their children.
Cities are also being encouraged to work with Indigenous-led organizations.