Wednesday July 23, 2014

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SE College releases initial housing report

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The Southeast Regional College (SRC) has released the Estevan Student and Market Rental Housing Report – a document that is part of the first phase of the college's effort to bring more affordable housing to Estevan.

The report, prepared by Preferred Choice Development Strategists, was unveiled on March 6. It examined a number of key indicators for affordable housing, including population and employment growth, and housing affordability.

SRC president and CEO Dion McGrath said it provides further evidence of what the college and the community already know: that there is an affordable housing shortage in Estevan.

“This report allows the college to answer three important questions,” said McGrath. “Is there a community need for affordable housing? Is there an unmet need for affordable student housing? Should we continue to invest more resources to develop a comprehensive business and investment plan?

“The answer is ‘yes’ to all three.”

Preferred Choice collected data from a number of sources, including Statistics Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). SRC students were also surveyed for their thoughts.

Only 31 of 128 students – or less than 25 per cent – said they would be interested in student housing, but most of the respondents were part-time students. Twenty of 33 full-time students, or 60.6 per cent, said they would be interested in a housing initiative.

“Students are having a tremendously difficult time finding something that's suitable,” said McGrath. “And it's very difficult paying for something that's suitable.”

McGrath believes the college would require enough student housing units to accommodate approximately 70 to 80 learners, if they are to achieve their enrolment goals for the Estevan campus.

Design aspects will be covered in Phase 2, which is underway. The college will work with partners to create a full-scale business and investment plan. Once that is in place, the SRC intends to engage the private sector for feedback, and, if necessary, make any adjustments to the plan prior to initiating an investment campaign.

“We don't have a preconceived notion of what the design would be,” said McGrath. “The design would follow the make-up of the potential market.”

McGrath spoke to business leaders at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce's monthly meeting in January. He explained the urgent need for more housing at the college and in the community, and how the college can help remedy the issue with some partners.

Since then, the college has been receiving inquiries from individuals and businesses who want to know more about the concept and what the college hopes to accomplish.

“For the most part, they're expressing very similar concerns about the bottleneck for affordable housing on their businesses, and their inability to fill vacant positions,” said McGrath. “They're very optimistic and they're very positive when we're talking about the project that we're pursuing.”

The business plan could be submitted to the college for an initial look by the end of March. McGrath is hopeful the Phase 2 document could be out in mid-April.

They also don't have a location finalized. They're working with the City of Estevan to try to secure a suitable location. It won't be at the college's Estevan campus, which is also home to the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute (SETI).

“I don't believe that's an appropriate place for residential housing,” said McGrath. “It's not zoned for residential housing.”

Other highlights from the report were:

*About 1,970 additional dwelling units would have to be constructed over the next 10 years to meet Estevan's housing needs. About 200 to 400 of those units would have to be for rentals.

*Potential sustained demand could require 104 student rental units.

*The report states that the SRC can bring together a unique public-private partnership ideal for new rental housing units, as it will be able to advance the project to occur in a timely manner. The college has training capacity for new students to meet the needs of industry in the area.

*Using Estevan's population figure of 11,053 from the 2011 Census, the report indicates that Estevan's population could reach 16,864 by 2024, if the population grows by 1.999 per cent each year.


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