Rooming Houses in Regina
The rooming house issue in Regina is part of a much larger global phenomenon, to properly
understand its origins we need to first understand the larger context.
Regina in Context
In June 2013 Regina had the lowest unemployment rate in the country, 3.5%.1 For the past few
years Regina has consistently had one of the ten lowest unemployment rates in the western
world.2 In 2012 Regina had the second fastest economic growth in the country at 4.5%, just
behind Edmonton. We have the 4th highest per capita income $44,662 behind Calgary,
Edmonton and Ottawa.3 These realities are drawing thousands of people from all over the world
to our city.
Population Growth and Housing
Officially the population of Regina grew by 3.2%4 in 2012, three times the national average and
second only to Saskatoon. Unofficially, as people in the statistical field can tell you, the population
has been growing faster than official metrics.
Between 2005 and 2012 the vacancy rate dropped from about 4% to about 1%. In that same
time the average price of an existing house went from $122,184 to $301,145 an increase of
almost 250% in just 7 years.5
Rapid population growth driven by rising levels of prosperity has created a housing shortage.
This housing shortage will only be eliminated by either quashing prosperity or by increasing the
supply of housing. Quashing prosperity is not a politically popular option, which leaves the only
remaining option; increasing the supply of housing.
The supply of housing can be increased two ways:
1) Increase the number of dwellings. This is already being done, housing starts in the city are up
350% from 2005-20126.
It will, in the short term, be difficult to further accelerate the pace of housing construction in light of the labour shortage.
2) Increase the number of people per dwelling. There is significant surplus space within Regina’s existing housing stock. The following graph shows that the number of people per dwelling has fallen by about 50% since the 1930’s; this has happened despite newer houses being significantly larger than older houses. Neighborhoods such as Hillsdale and Whitmore Park, which were constructed in the 1950’s and 60’s, were built during a time in which it was normal to have a third more people living in a house than there are today.
1 Saskatchewan Labour Force Statistics, May 2013
2 US Bureau of Labour Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics.
3 Conference Board of Canada, Metropolitan Outlook Spring 2013
4 CANSIM 0510046
6 Saskatchewan Economic Review 2012
The Solution to Regina’s Housing Crisis
In the long term, the housing crisis will be solved by increasing the number of dwellings, however, in the short term, the number of people per dwelling must go up to satisfy the housing needs of the population. Failure to increase the population density will result in slower economic growth, homelessness and their associated social ills.
Increasing the number of people per household will provide many benefits, most of which are covered in the document “Transforming Regina, Planning for 2040 and Beyond”. Rooming houses are the solution to Regina’s housing shortage!
The Whitmore Park and Hillsdale Community Associations
The Whitmore Park and Hillsdale community associations have recently written a letter to the City of Regina’s administration outlining their concerns regarding manifestations of the housing shortage in their neighbourhoods.
These neighbourhoods feel the effects of the housing shortage more acutely than other neighborhoods due to their proximity to the university and its 13,113 students. 7 The University does not have sufficient on-campus housing to accommodate the student body. The city’s transit system is anemic due to 60 years of automobilecentric development and there are insufficient parking spots to support a large commuting population. These factors force many students to live in nearby neighbourhoods so that they can easily access the campus via active transport methods.
To combat what the community associations perceive to be the problem of “rooming houses” they have proposed a new tax be levied on all properties which provide housing for nonfamily members. The revenue this regressive tax generates is to be used to enforce new regulations and subject homeowners to invasive searches of their private homes.
The community associations propose to put an arbitrary cap of 2 “rooming units” in a dwelling. This limit would restrict the supply of rental units without regard to the actual size and capacity of the dwelling, and would render homeless anybody currently living with more than two people.
We feel this will be a disaster. The effect of new taxes and regulations on rental spaces will be to reduce the supply of rental spaces at exactly the time they are most needed.
A better solution is to encourage a larger number of people to rent out rooms in their homes, thus providing renters with a greater diversity of housing options and preventing the massive overcrowding that has appeared in a few isolated instances. By diffusing people across a larger area the concerns of the community associations will be ameliorated.
Nobody wants to live in a cramped overcrowded environment, but people are doing so because there are few alternatives available to them. Forcing people out into the street is not the solution.
7 University of Regina Fact sheet