Time for a roof raising

Tackling a housing shortage is not easy. The issue is huge, with many angles. And it affects us all. Home buyers and renters face huge costs. Business and public-sector managers looking to hire...

Tackling a housing shortage is not easy.

The issue is huge, with many angles.

And it affects us all.

Home buyers and renters face huge costs. Business and public-sector managers looking to hire new employees are being hampered by the lack of decent accommodation.

And the poor have it worse.

The impoverished fellow is now probably using his food money to cover his rent, or he’s trading down to something grubbier. The single mother who’s just had her rent pushed beyond reach is doing the same.

So is it any wonder that, in April, the Whitehorse Food Bank Society was helping to feed 1,300 people a month – more than double the expected demand when it opened two years ago.

And this during a boom. Why? Well, the lack of housing is probably exacerbating the problem.

It also impacts on health care.

Imagine you fall ill, lose your job and then your house. What next? You could find yourself trying to recuperate in a small apartment amid several new roommates. If you’re lucky.

And, if you happen to own a bed-and-breakfast, or rental property, you might find yourself confronted with people in dire straits, often with mental or physical impairments, looking for a place to stay. Why? Because the government hasn’t got enough supportive housing and it’s pushing the issue onto the private sector, which is not equipped to deal with it.

Fair? Probably not.

There was money to deal with some of these things. But, instead, the government elected to hoard $18 million in housing money to make the territory’s finances look better.

A good decision? Probably not.

But it’s one we’re living with today.

And the resulting crisis is not only hurting the poor, but it is stifling economic growth.

Employers, public and private, are struggling to recruit talent in the face of the shortage.

And that executive who was just landed her dream job could find herself sharing a cramped flat with two other people. And will probably pay a ridiculous amount for the privilege.

They aren’t likely to stick it out. If they’re talented, they’ll leave. And local managers have found themselves struggling to fill the position. Again.

So we’re all feeling the effects – a 1.2 per cent vacancy rate. The current crisis is the great equalizer. Something we all agree is a problem.

And there are culprits.

More of us are buying homes, because the territory is a wealthy place and interest rates are low.

The houses are getting bigger. The infrastructure is getting more elaborate and expensive.

Alongside that, dithering and mistakes on the part of the city and Yukon government led to a shortage of housing lots.

The city turned to infill to solve the problem, but lacked the leadership to convince people to allow it in their neighbourhoods, or the political courage to do it anyway.

Then a global economic collapse shook loose a pile of stimulus spending, which pulled a lot of our contractors into government projects, driving up the cost of labour and materials.

And that stimulus spending was piled on a heady mining rush, which was calling people north.

That, coupled with a less transient population, simply made an already tight housing problem much worse.

And on it goes.

So how do we fix it?

That’s not easy.

In the case of apartments, the banks are not that willing to bankroll such projects. They prefer condos, which are less risky because they are sold in advance.

If the government regulates rents, landlords might stop offering flats. If the government builds housing, the private sector is less likely to invest in it.

And, if you rush to build more houses, you could cause a glut, screwing the market the other way.

All this is made more difficult because building houses and apartment complexes takes time, so the effects of decisions today take a while to materialize.

But just because the problem is tricky, it shouldn’t lead to operational paralysis.

There are things we can do.

Airdrie, Alberta, faced similar problems and came up with some innovative fixes. Maybe Whitehorse and the territory should buy the Westmark Klondike Inn, adding its 100, or so, rooms to our social housing stock.

And the territory might consider broadening its singleminded focus on seniors’ housing to offer something to younger citizens who need assisted living.

The city should start raising taxes on vacant lots. And it must find a way to reintroduce a stipulation on new lots it sells that construction must begin within two years.

Whitehorse residents will have to reimagine their neighbourhoods, and become more accommodating to development in their backyards. After all, higher population density prevents destruction of outlying wilderness, while making the whole city much more efficient.

The bottom line: there are no quick or simple fixes.

We’re all affected by this problem, we all bear some responsibility for creating it and it will take all of us, working together, to fix it.

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history


Wyatt’s World for May 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Copies of the revised 2021-22 budget documents tabled in the legislature on May 14. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Liberals introduce new budget with universal dental and safe supply funding

The new items were added to secure the support of the NDP.

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters on May 13. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Cap on rent increases will take effect May 15

The rollout of the policy is creating ‘chaos,’ says opposition

Yukon News file
A 21-year-old man is in custody after a stabbing in Porter Creek on May 14.
One man in hospital, another in custody, after alleged stabbing in Porter Creek

A police dog was used to track the suspect who was later arrested in a wooded area.

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Most Read