Pauline Frost, health minister, talks to media in Whitehorse. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government pressured to do more to solve Ross River housing woes

Future use of six soon-to-vacant YG staff units remains unclear

Confusion over the continuing housing crisis in Ross River has forced the housing minister to try to clarify her position on what the territorial government is doing to help.

Pauline Frost, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation told the legislative assembly Oct. 25 that when Yukon government employees move into a new six-plex that is being built, their six old units were being allocated to the Ross River Dena Council.

“The six units that are made available and vacated are going to be designated to the Ross River Dena Council, and we are working with them to ensure that this happens,” she said.

Later that day, cabinet spokesperson Janine Workman sent out an email saying: “A final decision of what to do with the existing buildings has not yet been made.”

In her second scrum with the press in as many days, Frost clarified that the units will be made available if that’s what all sides agree to.

“The Ross River Dena Council has not come back and said ‘yes, we want to have those units definitively,’” she said.

“What they’ve said is let’s work together so that we can start addressing some of the … challenges of the community.”

Calls to the First Nation were not returned by deadline.

Frost said government officials have been meeting with the Ross River Dena Council. The issue of the six-plex will likely be discussed at a meeting with Chief Jack Caesar next week, she said.

Frost said vacant Yukon Housing units in Ross River and Faro have also been made available to the First Nation.

As for the six homes that will be freed up once the new government building is finished in December, it’s not clear whether the First Nation would actually want them. Assessments and inspections will be done once the units are vacated and the new six-plex is opened up, Frost told the house.

Last year Caesar wrote to all three territorial political parties and the Government of Canada, raising the alarm about his community’s housing crisis.

Out of the First Nation’s 130 homes, 27 are still occupied even though they have enough mould and other contaminants affecting people’s health that they need to be demolished. Another 16 are so bad they’ve been abandoned, Caesar wrote at the time.

The chief said the community needs emergency, temporary housing for 48 to 60 families and more money to help with repairs.

The Ross River Dena Council is one of three First Nations in Yukon that does not have a self-government agreement meaning money for housing comes from the federal government.

Frost told the legislative assembly the government is helping the First Nation build capacity to work with the money they have.

During the election the Liberals promised that housing in Ross River would be a priority.

“How many housing units has her government built in Ross River and how many do they plan on building?” Yukon Party MLA Stacey Hassard asked Oct. 26.

Frost said “in doing an internal assessment with our partners that the resources that the Ross River Dena Council was getting and receiving was sufficient, as is the language from the federal government for the housing units that they needed.”

In the 2016-2017 federal budget the First Nation got $2.2 million for housing on top of the $600,000 it gets annually.

The additional money is to cover construction of three three-bedroom duplexes and includes $250,000 for repairing 10 homes, Frost said earlier this year.

Frost told the legislative assembly the RRDC was considering moving the community because of melting permafrost and climate change.

This summer engineers recommended relevelling the school in the community for a second time.

She then appeared to suggest the territorial government was not willing to put more money towards building new homes in the present situation.

“They are considering moving the community at some point in the future because the school is one example — a bad example — of what has happened with building on that unstable foundation,” she said.

“That is what we’re working toward. We’re not going to sink more money into sinking ground. We’re going to sink more money into sustainability and long-term initiatives in collaboration with our funding partners.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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