Affordable housing was just one of the topics addressed at an all-candidates forum geared towards Yukon First Nation issues at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 7. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

Affordable housing addressed at all-candidates forum on First Nations issues

Chief Doris Bill questions pledge by the Conservative candidate

The chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation challenged an affordable housing plan by Conservative candidate Jonas Smith during a forum about Yukon First Nations issues this week.

Smith wants to support Kwanlin Dün First Nation in bringing more residential developments on settlement land to market. The First Nation government registered a piece of its Settlement A lands with the Yukon’s land titles office roughly one year ago, marking a first.

Chief Doris Bill, who attended the forum hosted at Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Oct. 7, bucked this idea to a degree, saying the plan isn’t a panacea to housing woes in the territory.

“It may be a portion of the solution, but it’s not the solution,” she said.

The forum, emceed by Dave Joe, a citizen of Champagne Aishihik First Nations, covered a lot of ground, including what candidates would do to address climate change, homelessness and self-governing issues.

Whichever party is elected, Smith said federal dollars will flow, but housing problems stem from a lack of land availability.

“I agree that First Nation settlement land is not the only solution, but I think that is a very unique and very powerful Yukon solution,” he said. “What I think is so special about the Yukon reality is that First Nations are landowners here, and that’s why I’m supportive of what your government is doing right now, because I think it will be transformational for our economy. I wanna do everything in my power to support Kwanlin Dün in succeeding in its efforts, so that other First Nations follow suit and, over the course of the next 10, 20 years we can address our housing issues with full partnership of Yukon First Nations.”

Bill asked candidates what they intend to do in order to increase affordable housing stock while supporting Indigenous-led housing initiatives.

“There’s a lot of work underway right now, a phenomenal amount of work in communities across this country, including Kwanlin Dün, and we don’t want that work to fall away,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Federal Liberals announced a national plan worth more than $600 million to ensure Indigenous people have access to housing (addressing homelessness is built into it.)

Bill asked whether Bagnell would follow through with this commitment if the Liberals were reelected.

He said yes.

“We’ve already set aside those funds,” Bagnell said.

“We’ve signed an agreement with Yukon government for $60 million to do projects here. Some of the projects will be affordable rentals in the sense the developer doesn’t get money unless the rents are specifically affordable.”

Bagnell said a rent subsidy for low-income families would be launched next year, which would save them $2,500 per year.

Twenty-seven projects that seek to mitigate homelessness in First Nations have been approved, “but there certainly needs to be much more,” he said.

Justin Lemphers, candidate for the NDP, spoke in general terms about what his party plans to do across Canada, plugging a rent supplement program for people from low-income brackets and building 500,000 affordable units over a 10-year period.

“What’s most important when it comes to Indigenous housing, when it comes to housing for First Nations people, is working in partnership, and that’s what we commit to doing,” he said.

Lenore Morris said the Green Party is supportive of a bolstered affordable housing strategy.

“I would do what I could in terms of getting money available for that,” she said.

Joseph Zelenzy, candidate for the People’s Party of Canada, said a dearth of affordable housing would be addressed by placing a cap on immigration numbers, reducing it to 150,000 per year.

“It’s not the role of government to try to manage it because government is in large part what created it,” he said. “If you look at recent immigration numbers, that is part of the issue. There’s just not enough supply to meet the demand.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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