Housing corporation adds fuel to hot market

Whitehorse is in the grips of a residential lot shortage. Housing prices have skyrocketed and proposed lot developments have become snarled in some…

Whitehorse is in the grips of a residential lot shortage.

Housing prices have skyrocketed and proposed lot developments have become snarled in some messy politics.

Last year, the city sold 185 lots.

If that demand is sustained, and the Porter Creek infill development remains in limbo, there will be no lots available by 2007, said city councillor Doug Graham.

“We’re in tough shape.”

But, apparently, the Crown-owned Yukon Housing Corporation is oblivious to these problems.

The corporation is making it easier for Yukoners to buy homes.

“We’re not even sure there really is a land shortage because there is lots (of housing) on the market right now,” said the corporation’s program delivery director Marc Perreault.

What troubles the corporation is the escalating cost of buying and building houses.

“We hadn’t adjusted our interest rates for 15 years,” said its corporate relations director Don Routledge.

So, to open the housing market to low-income buyers, Yukon Housing Corp. recently lowered mortgage interest rates, extended mortgage terms and increased the financial limit for mortgages.

In short, the corporation is fuelling demand in a market where housing lots are in short supply.

“We are trying to be very proactive, to help individual homeowners and also to identify potential opportunity for the housing industry,” said Perreault.

“What we’re hoping is, by giving clients an opportunity to purchase homes in this range, we’re going to encourage the industry to respond to the demand and build affordable housing units of this type — that’s part of the strategy.”

The corporation raised the allowable financing limit for homebuyers by $20,000, to a maximum of $195,000 for a home.

“Buyers couldn’t find a good quality product under the last threshold, which was $175,000,” said Routledge.

“It is the difference between a clunker and a good home.”

And, if there are financial initiatives available for those looking for lower cost housing, hopefully the industry and developers will respond by building houses that fit that market, said Routledge.

“We can only tackle one thing at a time and, unfortunately, land development is not really our area; it is just affordable housing and finding home ownership for our clients,” added Perreault.

“There are a lot of things happening that are going to try and address that land shortage.”

But nothing really addresses the demand for low-income housing.

“There’s no doubt they’ve been cranking out houses in Granger and Copper Ridge the last few years at a pretty steady rate,” said New Democrat housing critic Steve Cardiff.

“A lot of those homes are in the higher end, they’re pretty expensive homes — what we need to see are some homes that are built that are a little more modest and in the price range that people can afford.”

It’s about encouraging developers to build more affordable homes, as opposed to the more high-end homes, he said.

“The problem is the market is so tight and so hot now, said Cardiff, noting Yukon housing and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation have tied the definition of affordability to the market.

“And that doesn’t work for everybody,” said Cardiff.

 “It doesn’t work for people who are in the lower echelons of the income range, and it doesn’t work for senior citizens.”

The corporation’s decision to increase the mortgage threshold isn’t helping seniors find affordable housing, because those seniors aren’t going to want to get into a long-term mortgage, said Cardiff.

“It’s really about looking for other creative ways to make housing affordable, and making it affordable in the rental market too.”

“Shelter is one of the most important things — everybody needs shelter, especially up here on a day like today,” he said, referring to the near minus 30 Celsius temperature.

Home ownership is something that should be available to everybody, regardless of income level, said Cardiff.

Yukon housing offers home ownership opportunities and mortgages for low-income buyers who meet its lengthy, rigorous risk assessment.

It also assists those who are not qualified for mortgages from charter banks.

While banks frequently require a five-per-cent down payment, the housing corporation only requires 2.5 per cent.

It also tracks the interest rates of chartered banks, finds the average and offers homebuyers a rate that is one per cent lower.

“This way, lower-income families have better access to home ownership,” said Routledge.

To learn more about the programs and services offered by Yukon housing drop by 410H Jarvis Street, or visit the Yukon government website www.gov.yk.ca

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