The housing crisis is here

The rental crisis, which has made headlines in places like Toronto and Vancouver, is alive and well in the the Yukon.

The clock is ticking for Megan Breen, her husband, three kids, and dog.

A couple of months ago, the landlord who owns the Copper Ridge duplex they’ve called home for the last year and a half said he wanted to move back into the unit. They have until the end of May to find a new place.

That might not sound so urgent, but the Whitehorse rental market is now so tight that any posted vacancy immediately receives a deluge of interest. Breen says she’s inquired about 15 different places in the last month and has so far come up empty.

“As soon as we try to contact the (prospective landlord) there’s like 30 applications or it’s already taken,” she said. “It’s a scramble.”

Breen says she’s now taking anti-anxiety medication because the house hunt is so stressful.

Fed up, Breen took to a Facebook page devoted to Whitehorse property rentals to vent about the lack of affordable rental options and called on the Yukon Housing Corporation to build more units. It struck a chord. Numerous posters, many of whom face housing issues of their own, commiserated.

On Kijiji and Facebook alike, there are often more people posting in search of accommodation than there are accommodations offered. If you’re a pet owner, it’s even tougher to find a place. The rental crisis, which has made headlines in places like Toronto and Vancouver, is alive and well in the the Yukon.

The vacancy rate for rental accommodations of all types and sizes, according to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, was three per cent. The next survey results, due to be tabulated in April will be interesting, because anecdotally, the market seems even tighter than that.

The median monthly rent, per the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, was $986, and has been rising steadily since 2012. The average home sale price actually dropped in 2016, but it was from a largely unaffordable $425,200 to a still-largely-unaffordable $420,300.

All signs point to a major uptick in the mining industry. Exploration is projected to increase this summer, majors are buying into promising properties, and several advanced projects are moving through the regulatory regime.

Broadly speaking, this is good economic news. But the Yukon already boasts Canada’s lowest unemployment rate, and a mining boom will mean an influx of new workers. Some of these will live in camps, while others will be fly-in workers. Many will enter the housing market and drive demand — and prices — even higher.

The experience of the northern Australian city of Darwin, which underwent a boom driven by a major liquefied natural gas project, was recorded in the journal Human Geographies in 2013. Australian researchers found Darwin’s rental vacancy rate plummeted to 0.6 per cent during the first 12 months of the boom, forcing median rental prices for houses to increase 27.3 per cent during the first 12 months of the boom, and apartment rents up 15.2 per cent during the same period. (The boom has now gone bust and housing prices are falling, but still higher than they were pre-boom.)

The researchers found that Indigenous people, refugees, single parents, youth and people with disabilities ended up spending a greater share of their income on rent and were more likely to end up homeless, having been priced out of the rental market.

This experience has been repeated time and again. Petroleum booms in Williston, North Dakota, and Fort McMurray caused massive housing shortages, plus major increases in crime and huge pressures on existing police, infrastructure and social services.

Again, this is not an argument against mining. It is a central pillar of our economy and one of the ways we pay for the quality of life most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy. It is an argument for foresight and caution: the Australian researchers found that consultation and planning could reduce the undesirable socio-economic impacts of major resource booms.

There are a few encouraging signs of action: As the News reported this week, Challenge Disability Resource Group wants to build up to 48 affordable units downtown. In its budget tabled April 27, the territorial government announced a package of housing-related spending, including $1.5 million for the First Nations Housing Program, $1 million in matching funds for rental construction and $500,000 to support Habitat for Humanity projects. The federal government’s most recent budget included $24 million in Yukon-specific housing funds, although that money is spread out over 11 years.

In Dawson City, which is prone to major seasonal housing shortages during the summer, a new not-for-profit nine-unit building aimed at middle-income earners will open in June.

Meanwhile, the City of Whitehorse is beginning to embark on its most recent planning process. This is an opportunity for the city to encourage densification, especially in the downtown core, and infill, which would bring more housing units located close to services and jobs. City council must resist the temptation to kowtow to residents demanding NIMBYism and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

The Silver government also budgeted $9.8 million for new lots in Whistle Bend, including 79 lots that will come on the market this year.

But $400,000-plus houses don’t do much to solve the affordability problem, even if they do help increase supply. All levels of government need to ensure that new housing is available for Yukoners of every income level.

Worthwhile as these various initiatives may be, the units they create will take years to come onto the market. The private sector has found it largely uneconomical to build rental apartments lately, so it’s up to the public sector, which is not known for working fast, to get new units on the market. Time is of the essence.

For Megan Breen, none of these projects will solve her immediate problem. If nothing comes up, her family’s last resort is to stay in a camper until they can find a place.

Breen’s story is all too familiar to many Yukoners. Without quick action, it’s one that will become even more common.

Contact Chris Windeyer at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read