Monday, January 7, 2013

Campaign Update: Ryan Meili

Ryan's Website: LINK

As promised, we're now going to take a look at Ryan Meili's recently released policy platform with regards to Housing. Ryan's campaign is also working on a First Nations & Metis policy platform, which we will talk about when it is released in full.

But now to Housing. Beyond a doubt, housing is one of the biggest problems facing the province at the moment and it's one of those issues that the government seems to be dragging their feet on.It's a staple for the candidates to talk about during the debates that have taken place, and no doubt it will continue to be an issue that is talked about across the province.

As such, the Meili campaign has put forward their vision for a housing strategy in Saskatchewan. The first part of the plan revolves around the principles that should guide a housing strategy within the province.

The first plank of Ryan's plan revolves around collaboration on building a ten year affordable housing strategy. Ryan points to the fact that Canada lacks a housing strategy as a whole, and that we should work with the other provinces (and the Federal Government, if they can be bothered to help under the Harper Conservatives) and work with as many partners (other provinces, non-governmental organizations, First Nations & Metis, builders, business leaders, etc) to develop a housing strategy that impacts the province, reserve, and Northern communities.

The second plank of Ryan's plan revolves around addressing the housing continuum. Ryan calls attention to the Wall Government's failure to focus on the entire housing continuum, instead putting a singular focus on entry home ownership; and instead, suggests that work be done to ensure that we are addressing a movement in securing housing: from homelessness to renting, and then from renting to owning. The plan also calls for ensuring a movement from social assistance to employment as well, while also calling for a strategy to ensure a stock of affordable rental units.

The third plank of Ryan's plan revolves around measuring progress and ensuring accountability. Ryan points to Saskatoon's strategy of increasing rental units in the city by 500 per year, and how having a clear goal allows the city and builders and NGOs a clear target and the ways to achieve it. Ryan also points to the Wall Government's cuts in selling off affordable housing, and how this places people into substandard housing which in turn generates other problems.

The final plank (in the principles category) speaks more about those other problems mentioned above. Ryan's plan states that housing creates advantages, while lack of housing creating disadvantages. By making these investments, which may seem costly at first, we can recoup that investment through the positives that housing generates (in terms of decrease health costs, justice costs, and social spending costs.)

It is with those principles in mind that Ryan's plan shifts towards the goals that his plan hopes to achieve.

The first is a ten-year plan to end homelessness. Drawing on the example of the Alberta model, Ryan points to the Housing First strategy and the benefits that it has created within Alberta. 92% of those helped under the system remain within their home, emergency room visits are down 40%, and calls to police are also down 40%. Ryan is quick to note that leadership on this issue must come from the provincial government if it is to be truly effective, and that with that leadership homelessness could be ended within the province in 10 years.

The second is to preserve and improve the housing we already have. Ryan's plan calls for the establishment of a housing energy and safety retrofit plan; stopping the sell-off of Sask Housing rentals and slowing down condo conversation rates; establish a solar power retrofit program.

The third is to build more affordable housing. Ryan points out that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has suggested governments earmark 15% of all new housing as low-income/affordable housing to keep up with demand; Saskatchewan has averaged 6,000 housing starts per year and this 15% model would mean 900 units built per year with a focus on affordability.

The fourth is to make new housing more affordable and of better quality. Ryan's plan calls for innovation to maximize investment, focusing on a Manitoba model that builds single person dwellings that contain necessities with a smaller square footage or the idea of design competitions to enhance innovation; promotion of inclusionary zoning for new neighbourhoods, ensuring that affordable housing can be found in old and new neighbourhoods.

The fifth is to put a greater emphasis on housing co-ops. Ryan notes that the housing co-op model was successful in earlier decades, but has since fallen to the wayside in terms of new buildings.

The sixth is to rethink seniors' housing for the next generation. Ryan's plan draws again on the co-op model to limit risk and create a community for those leaving single-dwelling units, and calls for the province to start to think of new ways to to promote affordable and home-based alternatives for seniors.

The final is to establish a centre of excellence for building in extreme climates. Ryan's plan calls for us to reconsider the way we build housing in the province to ensure that we are not encouraging designs that promote energy inefficiency; with the goal to be buildings that stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter with minimal energy input.

As per usual, this is the part where I focus on the idea that stands out the most from those proposed. Without a doubt, I think the Centre of Excellence for Building in Extreme Climates is that idea. We have heard a lot about retrofits and renovations that make the goal energy efficiency, so it's nice to see a ground-up proposal that calls for a focus on such things when building new units in the first place. It's a good common sense proposal, and one that I think has a lot of potential to become a major talking point in the campaign.

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