A brief history of affordable housing in Whitehorse

A brief history of affordable housing in Whitehorse The recent interest in the problem of housing and the concern for those struggling to meet high rents while earning minimum wage is getting to be a great concern. Obviously the gap is widening. Opportun

The recent interest in the problem of housing and the concern for those struggling to meet high rents while earning minimum wage is getting to be a great concern. Obviously the gap is widening. Opportunities to earn a good blue-collar wage locally has vanished.

Service jobs are not adequately paid. The $10 minimum wage is out of proportion from the $7 offered 25 years ago, when you could buy a starter home for $50,000 (speculation in real estate is not an economy, kiddies).

It has always been expensive to live in the North: rent, fuel, food travel etc. In the past, wages had to be more generous than down south.

Then came the northern allowance for federal government employees: travel benefits as well as cheap housing. I believe it was initiated to attract and balance the then low-paid salaries of civil servants, and was untaxed.

Government provided homes in Riverdale and Valleyview. Same with the Canadian military in Camp Takhini and Hillcrest. Their civilian employees could live in less opulent quarters – barrack-type apartments in Lot 19 or Camp Takhini. Single women had a separate apartment, now called The Barracks, all with a low rent. Another perk was the subsidized Takhini and Hillcrest rec. centres.

Some took jobs with the Highways Department and lived in the maintenance camps along the highway. They were complete with school, rec. centre, low-rent comfortable homes plus northern allowance. This gave couples a great opportunity to save a stake.

As well, the private sector had a supply of company houses: Cassiar Asbestos, Whitehorse Copper, Marwell Construction, Territorial Supply, White Pass, Taylor and Drury, staff apartments above The Bank of Commerce, Burns, the NC Company Store.

Housing has always been pretty tight, and many pioneers started out in squatting downtown on White Pass and government land. No taxes, but without services. Statistics compiled by Jim Lotz in 1963 listed 1/3 of the houses downtown as squatters, occupied by an assortment, from government workers waiting for housing to trappers.

One could also mention the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the almost free old U.S. army barracks that could be moved onto a city lot downtown or in Porter Creek, and fixed up from payday to payday.

Realistically, the minimum wage should be topped by the employer with a northern cost of living bonus. And the big box stores should be encouraged to build staff apartments as well. This would take the load off of taxpayers and also the food bank.

Pat Ellis


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