Analysis report looks to Outlook's housing future

A presentation held during last week’s regular meeting of Outlook’s town council shed some light on where the community could be headed in the future when it comes to the local housing market.

Council welcomed community planner Danny Gray and junior planner Carolyn Dunn of the Saskatoon-based Urban Systems community consultant firm to their January 27 meeting, appearing via Zoom call to speak to their recently completed Housing Analysis Report.  Their findings, though preliminary in this first draft of the report that is closely tied to Outlook’s Official Community Plan, help paint a picture of the current housing climate in the riverside community and point to several possible avenues for growth in the coming years.

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Gray has a prior relationship with the Town as he has been working for quite some time on a variety of projects, while Dunn was tasked with preparing the analysis report, of which the purpose is to address current housing and assess future residential development.

The report highlights that the demand for more housing in Outlook is palpable right now, Gray noting that there’s a “wide array” of residential needs.  A sizable chunk of that demand is centered by the Mann Street subdivision on the east part of town and the northern, open areas out by LCBI High School.

The report also touched on challenges with housing affordability in town, noting that 5% of households were found to be living in ‘inadequate’ housing, 2% living in ‘unsuitable’ housing, and 2% living in ‘unaffordable’ housing.  Gray and Dunn also say that there is a gap in intermediate housing for seniors and a growing need for more market rental units.

Danny and Carolyn shared that they had met with seniors at the Heritage Centre in town in order to learn of their needs.  What came up predominantly in their discussions was a desire for more senior-friendly housing in Outlook’s downtown core in order to be closer to amenities such as grocery shopping and the post office.

In terms of pricing, Outlook’s housing market breaks down as such:

Market housing - $200,000 low range average;
Rental housing - $550-800 per month for apartments, $750-900 for an in-house suite, and just over $1200 per month for a house.

The report notes that there is a gap of knowing the exact number of what’s available in rental housing, Dunn noting further in discussions that “affordability is tied to income; a quarter of households are renting.”

In terms of population projections and future growth in Outlook, the analysis shows that the high-end average is 3% growth based on the town’s historic rates.  If the town grows at a rate of 0.6%, Outlook could grow by as many as 290 people by 2036, representing a total of 1050 households (80 extra).  Gray and Dunn say that the Town should expect a need for more residential development, with a focus on variety of dwellings.

Speaking on growth in terms of across the province, a recent report from the Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association, touching on its fourth-quarter 2020 findings, says that what people expect and what they need is changing on the home front.

The number of overall homes that are currently under construction continues to increase, while the inventory of completed but unsold new homes continues to decline.  With the COVID pandemic causing labour disruptions and supply shortage (lumber, namely), it’s said that housing preferences have started to shift as more people have continued to work from home.  In addition, more consumers began seeking lower-density single-family neighbourhoods, and a number of current renters sought to become homeowners.

“It’s clear that the pandemic had an impact on housing, not only in terms of activity but bringing a recent change in housing preferences,” said Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association CEO Chris Guérette in a media release.  “What will be key in 2021, will be keeping a sharp eye on supply and on the possible erosion of affordability.”

“The normalization of work-from-home is expected to remain at least somewhat permanent, and that has far-reaching implications for housing, our growth plan and the economy,” added Stu Niebergall, President & CEO of the Regina & Region Home Builders’ Association.

The Home Builders’ Association reports that as the pandemic still creates a quickly shifting landscape, there is no indication that 2021 will see a slowing of the new housing and renovation markets.  In fact, it may be important for municipalities to plan accordingly in order to service a growing industry and avoid supply challenges that could erode affordability.

When it comes to the massive, $4 billion irrigation development project announced by the province last summer, Gray and Dunn say it could have a number of implications on Outlook.  Some people who will be employed for the project may already live in town or in the surrounding area, but it’s safe to assume that there will still be a demand for housing as well as the amenities that a larger community like Outlook has that others don’t have in their area.  There will likely be opportunities to retain employees who are looking to rehome their families and Outlook is said to be in a good position to offer the kind of community they can call home.

Gray and Dunn say that the many moving parts associated with the irrigation project make it difficult to know when the demand will rise, but it’s recommended that the housing market and population in town be closely monitored to know of any changes and help determine that demand.

Outlook may also want to look into rezoning its R1 areas into R2 near the downtown core, repurposing its housing options and bylaws in order to help when it comes to affordability and quality of life.  Gray also recommended some form of affordable housing complex and noted that there are opportunities to cost-share with that type of infrastructure to minimize the financial impact for the Town.

In researching for the analysis report and in his previous dealings with Outlook, Gray says the community is a place that people would enjoy calling home.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know Outlook and I’m sure many others would like the chance to get to know it, too,” said Danny.

It was said that inquiries and suggestions from Council to Urban Systems can further mould the report and its recommendations, so this version of the Housing Analysis should be very much considered a first draft.  That said, Council was impressed by its findings, and it was understood that from this point forward, the Town of Outlook may need to start thinking out-of-the-box when it comes to the local housing market.

© The Outlook

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