© Times-Herald photo by Lisa Goudy
Coun. Candis Kirkpatrick speaks on behalf of renters in the city regarding the amendment to the condo conversion bylaw at the Jan. 13, 2014 council meeting.
Minimum vacancy rate increased to three per cent
Amendments to a condo conversion bylaw were a topic of discussion at council.
At Monday’s meeting, council approved an amendment to the condominium conversion bylaw. The amendment proposed an increase to the City of Moose Jaw vacancy rate threshold from 2.0 per cent to 3.0 per cent or more, applying to the approval of conversion of existing rental units to condominium units.
The average vacancy rate for the City of Moose Jaw was at 3.0 per cent in April 2013 compared to 1.5 per cent in April 2012. By comparison, in October 2004, the vacancy rate was 4.3 per cent.
A municipal planning commission report said the City of Regina council decided to change their condominium conversion minimum vacancy rate from two per cent to three per cent “in order to help achieve their target City-wide vacancy rate of (three per cent) by 2017…”
“There need to be apartments, affordable apartments, for those people who are not in a position to (have a condo),” said Coun. Candis Kirkpatrick. “Living in an apartment building, one of the biggest fears you have is that someday you will get the notice in your mailbox saying that you have so long to find something else because your apartment is going to become a condo development.”
But Coun. Brian Swanson said he didn’t understand the association between condo conversions and low-income apartment units.
“Moose Jaw along with Swift Current have amongst the lowest rents in the province and when it comes to new apartment construction it’s directly related to the rents … Who are we to become authorities on housing?” said Swanson. “I don’t know why we’re getting involved.”
He added during his tenure on council, he’s never seen a bylaw amendment come forward to council because Regina changed a bylaw.
“There are a number of apartments being constructed in Moose Jaw right now,” said Swanson. “I do not understand the need of city hall to intrude itself further into the housing market by making it much more difficult for owners of property to convert to condos, when it doesn’t decrease housing stock and most times creates relatively low-cost entry-level housing for people who can convert from renters to homeowners.”
City manager Matt Noble said because Regina did it and Regina is in close proximity to Moose Jaw, there “could be a pressure from potential developers and investors who would come here.”
The condominium conversion bylaw was first passed in August 2012. According to Noble, no applications for conversions have come forward.
“This is the most affordable housing there is when apartments or townhouses are converted to condominiums,” said Swanson. “It doesn’t require any injection of government money and it shouldn’t even require any oversight from city hall.”
However, Kirkpatrick said a $200,000-condo, for instance, isn’t affordable housing for anyone paying rent and who “can’t necessarily afford a down payment or at a particular age no longer wish to have a mortgage.”
Coun. Don Mitchell said Swanson was correct in saying converting apartments to condo doesn’t “reduce the volume of housing.” But he agreed with Kirkpatrick.
“There is a serious vacancy shortage for lower-income apartment rent,” said Mitchell. “There’s also some obligation on the community to try and regulate and make available choices.”
The motion to approve the condo conversion bylaw amendments was passed with Swanson, Coun. Dawn Luhning and Coun. Patrick Boyle opposed and Kirkpatrick, Mitchell, Coun. Heather Eby and Mayor Deb Higgins in favour.
Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.
Sidebar: More details on condo conversion amendments
In a vote of 4-3, council voted in favour of some amendments to the condo conversion bylaw.
Along with the minimum vacancy requirement increase, the amendments will also allow the approving officer the authority to deny any application not meeting the criteria. The wording was changed to clarify requirements while keeping flexible areas and the bylaw is amended to prohibit the approval of applications where an agreement is in place restricting the condo conversions.
Other amendments include prohibiting secondary suites from being converted to condo units in single-family zoning districts; exempting applications for converting heritage properties from the minimum housing vacancy rate criteria; and allowing the spring and fall Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) market reports be used to determine the CMHC vacancy rate.
The report said Prince Albert’s minimum rental vacancy thresholds for condominium conversions is three per cent while Saskatoon’s is 1.5 per cent, Toronto’s is 2.5 per cent and Vancouver's is four per cent.
Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg have no minimum threshold but the respective provinces review all applications.
“Under the proposed minimum threshold for conversion of (three per cent), condominium conversions would have been permitted during one of the past nine years,” said the municipal planning commission report. “The proposed increase to a minimum (three per cent) vacancy threshold will limit condominium conversions, and help to ensure a minimum amount of rental housing remains on the market, given generally accepted vacancy thresholds.”
The report said under the Condominium Property Act of 1993, “approving authorities are required to ensure that condominium conversions do not significantly reduce the availability of rental accommodation."