Challenge pitches supportive housing units on Main Street vacant lot

Challenge Disability Resource Group has put a deposit on land for what could be the Yukon’s first multi-unit building offering a combination of affordable rentals and supportive living.

Challenge Disability Resource Group has put a deposit on land for what could be the Yukon’s first multi-unit building offering a combination of affordable rentals and supportive living.

The non-profit organization is eyeing an empty lot the City of Whitehorse is selling near the corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue.

The idea is to build a four-to-six-storey building that could house Challenge clients who need support, as well as offering affordable rentals.

“That’s a really inclusive design. That way we’ve got everybody living in the same area,” said Challenge’s executive director Jillian Hardie.

“It’s not segregating people in the population to different areas of town and creates a much more inclusive atmosphere.”

The idea is to put the organization’s offices on the main floor along with the cafe and woodworking shop that Challenge already runs. It would also have a drop-in centre.

The new building would add to the community, she said.

There is a high amount of drug use that happens at that end of town, she said.

“Having people there 24 hours, and the restaurant, and the Twisted Woodworks and having that retail portion, it will just allow for more safety in that neighbourhood. It allows for more presence.”

One-bedroom apartments would be built on the other floors, said Brent Slobodin, a member of the building committee. There would likely be 48 units.

About half of the units would be used by Challenge clients, with staff on hand to help residents. The others would be affordable rentals.

Slobodin said the organization has already talked to other NGOs that might be interested in renting guaranteed spots in the building for the clients they’re supporting.

It’s also possible that some of the units could be rented at market rate, he said.

Challenge has been pushing for a building like this for years. The issue most recently came up ahead of the territorial election in 2016. The group has already had plans designed by local architect Tony Zedda.

The City of Whitehorse put the lot at 704 Main St. out for bids in January 2016. It didn’t sell and has been available for purchase ever since.

The city’s website lists the total cost at $834,000. Challenge had money in the bank to put down the required 10 per cent deposit, Slobodin said.

Now it has three months to come up with the rest and make the purchase of the land official.

Before going through with the land purchase, the goal is to have as much construction money in place as possible, Hardie said.

No one is saying exactly how much the new building will cost. A lot of that will depend on how big it ends up being, Slobodin said.

Hardie put the price tag at “several million.” Challenge expects to have to take out a mortgage but hopes various levels of government will also chip in with funding, she said.

The organization owns its current building on Front Street, a former mechanic shop built in the 1970s.

“We can tear it down, and sell the land, and that would help us again with our funding,” Slobodin said.

They’ve already met with representative from the federal government to talk financing and MP Larry Bagnell is supportive of the idea, Slobodin said.

“We’re hoping at some point to get a meeting with YG. It hasn’t happened yet despite our requests.”

Unlike all of the current supportive housing run by the government, Challenge’s building would have fewer restrictions. There would be programming available most days, but no requirement that residents attend. Alcohol would be allowed, Hardie said.

“With a safe home, relationships can be built, healing can begin and people can live up to their full potential,” she said.

“Is this a housing-first model? Potentially, but it is starting from the place that housing is a human right. Safe housing is the first step towards change. This is not a shelter and it is not a transition home. They are single apartments that will offer support to tenants who want it.”

During the 2016 election the Liberals promised to adopt a housing-first strategy.

Last year Hardie said approximately 25 per cent or more of Challenge’s clients are homeless or hard to house.

Some couch surf, or spend their summers living at a local campground, or are forced to live long-term in downtown Whitehorse hotels.

Slobodin is optimistic about when they could start to build. After years of planning and talking about the idea the goal is to start construction this summer, he said.

“Our fondest hopes are that we can start building this year.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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