Alan Thomarat, Executive Director of the Saskatoon and Region Home Builders’ Association made an impassioned plea before city council on Monday for the availability of more serviced lots in 2007.
Before a full capacity council chamber, Thomarat argued that while Saskatoon has consistently ranked in the top three Canadian cities for economic growth in recent years, we are under performing miserably as far as new home starts are concerned, ranking last in the country behind Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
Thomarat, on behalf of his association and a chamber full of local builders donning white hard hats as a show of their support, made the following recommendations:
- The city approves servicing plans for 2,000 units of single family and multi family serviced land for 2007.
- Once approved, the city must act quickly to prepare and post appropriate tender calls.
- That builders be offered the opportunity to develop theme oriented neighbourhoods in city owned subdivisions.
- That the city considers releasing lots to builders prior to servicing if required so that they might be able to work with their customers.
- That the city work with existing developers in Stonebridge, Rosewood and Blairmore to mitigate delays, expedite approvals at all levels and ensure that the private development community is not hindered in its effort to serve their builders and customers.
- That the city assesses the retail value of long held inventory and discount these properties to levels that are market appropriate to satisfy the need for more affordable lots.
- That the city work with the industry, community associations, the fire department among others, to develop an aggressive neighbourhood revitalization strategy that includes existing housing stock, enforcing safety requirements, conducting inspections on marginal rental properties, and working with industry stakeholders to develop meaningful infill, core area housing strategies.
Speaking in support of those recommendations, Harry Janzen, Executive Director of the Saskatoon Real Estate Board, provided a statistical overview of the resale real estate market presenting evidence that many consumers wishing to purchase Saskatoon homes are “settling” for homes in outlying communities as a result of low inventories within the city. He reinforced the general belief in the resale industry that many more families are interested in moving to Saskatoon, and many already have, using figures from Statistics Canada which indicate 3,700 families have moved to Saskatchewan since June of last year.
I also had an opportunity to speak in support of our home builders and I expressed the following points to council:
- The current lack of resale listings is tied more to increased demand than it is to a low supply. Listings taken through 2006 by Saskatoon REALTORS®, though down slightly from 2005, were actually above the five year average.
- That the five year average of unit sales in our “bedroom communities” was up 31% over the previous five year average indicating that more and more buyers are considering these areas because of low housing inventory in Saskatoon.
- That many of these people will work and access services in Saskatoon, utilizing our infrastructure while paying property taxes in a different municipality.
- That a lack of new housing inventory is putting pressure on the resale housing market spurring price increases which are far exceeding income growth in the province. The average price of a Saskatoon home increased over 50% in the last five years while income growth has likely been somewhere below 20%.
- That Saskatoon is poised to see even larger increases in coming years if new housing opportunities are not fully explored and exploited.
- That many prospective home buyers, particularly those at the entry level are displaced and forced into substandard housing if resale property values are permitted to “skyrocket.”
- That the current challenges in meeting increased demand can only be met through the development of more land and the construction of new homes. Simple math would indicate that if more families wish to reside in Saskatoon, we’ll need more homes to accommodate them.
Finally, Pearl McNevin, an employee of North Ridge Development Corporation delivered an emotionally charged address on the impact that the current land use policies are having on employees of local builders and their families.
Political will to bring more lots to the market seems to exist. Mayor Don Atchison and a number of Councillors are clearly in favour of capitalizing on this opportunity to grow Saskatoon. Let’s hope that the Land Bank bureaucracy can rise to the challenge and deliver the goods.
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Royal LePage Saskatoon Real Estate