Cody Craswel, condo-agitator
Whitworth here, pinch-hitting for Dechene whose plane left this morning.
So I was out for the first two hours of last night's five-hour planning commission meeting. On the agenda: a schwack of applications by developers to convert rental units to condos. The procedure: Regina Planning Commission looks at each application, hears a recommendation from City administration, then comes up with a recommendation--approve or deny--for Council.
The controversy: Regina has in the ballpark of 100 rental suites available for the entire city right now, and taking more off the market is a blow to tenants who subsequently may or may not be forced/pressured/etc. out of these suites. Actually it's a problem for renters throughout the city, because with fewer rental suites available the rents go up. Supply and demand!
The drama: lots. First, there's the fact that there's fewer than 100 rental suites in the city (repeated for emphasis), which is a dangerous situation given that not everyone can afford a place to sleep as it is. When residency is like a high-stakes game of musical chairs, some are inevitably going to be left without an apartment when the music stops playing.
And so Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry (RAPM) was on hand to argue against the conversion (there were six seeking approval) because taken in total they create serious problems for lower-income individuals and families.
Also, there was pre-meeting protest held outside by some young adults who need affordable rental suites because they're not at the stage of their lives where they can afford to buy overpriced converted condominiums.
Council, meanwhile, has rarely met a conversion application it doesn't like. And while there's a moratorium on conversions, it doesn't apply to applications that were in the queue before the moratorium was approved. Like these ones.
Which brings us to the meeting.
I sat through the first two applications and the presentations before them. The first was kicked off with Gilmer's presentation against allowing any further conversions.
Gilmer spoke eloquently and passionately against the conversions, and stood firm when questioned by councillors. Did he recognize that the Province and the federal government have substantially more resources to address housing issues? they asked. Yes, said Gilmer, but the City has tools for this as well--like turning down conversion applications in a tight market--and it should use them.
But weren't these proposed conversions out of the price range of the people RAPM is trying to help anyway? Surely converting them to condominiums won't alleviate their housing issues? Well, said Gilmer, actually, taking more rental units off the market makes the remaining units more valuable in the rental market, and would likely cause rents to go up through the city--which would affect the people who come to RAPM for help.
City administration (civil servants) also recommended all the conversion applications be denied.
Well, to make a really long story shorter, planning commission recommended Council approve all six applications, although two were directed back to property owners who will be asked to improve protections for renters and address hardship issues.
You can read today's Leader-Post story here. I'm sure we'll have more in the next prairie dog (June 22).
The recommendations go before council on Monday, June 22. You know what would be fun? Giving City Council a huge audience that night.
Who's in? It'll be festive!
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: So a lot of these condo conversions are supposedly being approved partly because they keep rental property on the market. This is because many of the conversion agreements state that 75 per cent of suites are to remain rental property--and if they're sold, then owners are hit with a $2500 fine.
Now, some critical, miserable, wet blanket-types might suggest a $2500 fine is nothing if you can flip a unit and make a huge profit. It's just a fee on doing business. It's not enough of a disincentive.
In fact, Councillor Louis Brown (Ward 1--south end and university), in a show of solidarity with the wet blanket crowd, said that he'd be more comfortable with conversions if the penalty was raised. He said that shouldn't be a problem, since the property owners have all promised not to sell the rental-only condo units, so they shouldn't mind a higher penalty that they'd never have to pay anyway because they're all honest businessmen.
And so Brown proposed raising the fine to $10,000. And said he was going to make a formal motion on that.
But, he warned, if RPC refused to go for that, he'd make another motion. For a lower fine: $7500.
But, he threatened, if RPC wouldn't pass that motion, then the gloves would really come off. And he'd make a motion to raise the fine to $5000.
Take that, RPC!
And here's what happened: Having successfully telegraphed his "this is how low I will go" negotiating position, Counc. Brown made all three motions--which were near-unanimously voted down, one after the other.
And the piddly $2500 fine stood.
Counc. Michael Fougere (Ward 4--south-west Regina), who is the chair of Regina Planning Commission, said the $2500 penalty could always be raised later if protected condos start being sold from the rental market.
Cody Craswel, the 21 year-old condo protestor in the photo on this page, was sitting in front of me and was not impressed.
"By then it will be too late!" he chirped to his roommate and fellow activist, Melissa Hassima.
The kid's got a point.