Ending homelessness in Regina would require 21.7 per cent mill rate increase: budget report

Regina administration has laid out how much it would cost to use a housing first model to address homelessness in the city. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Regina administration has laid out how much it would cost to use a housing first model to address homelessness in the city. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

Regina's administration says it would require a massive increase to the mill rate to end homelessness in the city.

A report says the mill rate would need to increase by 21.7 per cent in 2023 and another 4.24 per cent in 2024 to pay for the estimated $122.5 million needed to implement a housing-first model of addressing homelessness.

The increase would translate to an average of $40.59 per month ($487.08 annually) per homeowner in 2023 and $11.90 per month ($142.80 annually) in 2024.

The details are outlined in the city's draft budget, which was unveiled to media on Tuesday afternoon. Actually funding the approach — and the associated increases —are not part of the recommended budget that will be put forward to council.

Instead, the idea is its own separate line item as a result of a motion passed by city council earlier this year.

This is the first year that Regina will pass a multi-year budget, which projects revenue and expenses for a two-year period as well as providing a five-year capital plan.

The math around the cost of addressing homelessness is based off a point-in-time count conducted on Sept. 29, 2021, that identified 488 individuals as experiencing homelessness in Regina. However, the count may have only identify one-third of the city's homeless population, meaning that there could have been more than 1,464 people experiencing homelessness in the city at the end of 2021, the city said.

The city said that to address homelessness, it would provide supportive housing to each person experiencing it.

The operating cost for each unit is more than $50,000 per person annually, for a total of $24.4 million in annual operational costs using the count of 488 as a baseline, it said.

The project would also require a significant capital investment in order to acquire, renovate or build new units. The city estimates it could cost a minimum of $200,000 for each unit, but due to stress placed on units, unit turnover and construction costs, the cost for each unit could balloon to $600,000.

That works out to a total cost of, at minimum, $97.6 million, it says.

There is also a cost of $500,000 for a dedicated staff that includes a manager, co-ordinator and three support staff positions.

Mayor a 'no' vote

The significant cost is why the City of Regina's administration did not include the line item in the recommended budget.

Barry Lacey, executive director of financial strategy and sustainability for the city, said administration has tried to balance delivering the services Regina residents expect with new policy objectives, while making sure it is all affordable.

"As an administration, we did not feel we could advance that recommendation as our proposed budget."

Mayor Sandra Masters said she would immediately vote no if someone attempts to include it in the city's final budget.

She said many of the issues that could solve homelessness are not in the municipal government's jurisdiction.

"We are not social services, we are not health, we are not corrections, we are not mental health, that is not what we are. We are a city," she said.

Masters added that she believes the provincial and federal governments have a role to play in addressing homelessness.

The city currently spends $7.9 million annually on programs meant to address homelessness and social development.

Actual proposed budget increase

The City of Regina's preliminary budget recommends a 4.67 mill rate increase in 2023, and a 4.66 per cent increase in 2024.

That means the average assessed home valued at $315,000 will see an increase of $8.74 a month ($104.64 annually) in 2023 and $9.11 per month ($109.32 annually) in 2024.

These are slight increases from what came in front of council in September. According to Barry Lacey, the city's executive director of financial, strategy and sustainability, that's the result of being able to now build in the budget numbers from the Regina Police Service.

Some of the projects that would be funded by the proposed increase under the city's five-year general capital plan include a $20.6 million for facility upgrades to support city bus electrification, $2.2 million for facility upgrades to advance the city's goal of reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and $1.7 million in annual funding for the newly created community and social impact Regina initiative.

The budget also outlines increases to the city's utility budget. That includes a 4.5 per cent rate increase in 2023 and a four per cent increase in 2024, as well as a one cent per day charge. The increase would allow the city to maintain the water, wastewater and stormwater system, and fund the city's portion of the Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant.

For the average homeowner that means an increase of $7.32 per month ($87.94 annually) in 2023 and an increase of $6.60 per month ($79.29 annually in 2024).

In total, the average homeowner can expect to pay $192.88 more in 2023 and $188.61 in 2024 under the proposed budget.

The city's proposed budget will be considered at a series of city council meetings to be held Dec. 14 to 16.