Disappointed, disillusioned and dismayed: Whitehorse needs more affordable housing

Charlotte Hrenchuk and Bill Thomas It is hard to know where to start when responding to Yukon government's decision to pull back funding to help build affordable, multi-unit rental housing in Whitehorse. Ultimately, members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coa

COMMENTARY

by Charlotte Hrenchuk

and Bill Thomas

It is hard to know where to start when responding to Yukon government’s decision to pull back funding to help build affordable, multi-unit rental housing in Whitehorse. Ultimately, members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition are disappointed, disillusioned and dismayed that 75 units of potential affordable housing will not be built.

It is hard to know where to start for a number of reasons. This last-minute decision was made even though there is a demonstrated need for the housing in question. This last-minute decision was made even though there is a demonstrated need for incentives for the private sector to build affordable, multi-unit rental housing. This last-minute decision was made even though an open process was in place to evaluate and choose the most appropriate projects. This last-minute decision was made by cabinet, not by the Yukon Housing Corporation’s board, and is based largely on input from two stakeholder groups. It boggles the mind.

It’s important to be clear that the Yukon Housing project was never going to meet the needs of the lowest income earners in Whitehorse. That being said, members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition recognize there is a pressing need for multi-unit, quality, affordable rental accommodation to be available to Whitehorse citizens.

The facts are clear – median rents hit a record high in December as stated in the latest Yukon Bureau of Statistics monthly update. Median rents have risen 18.3 per cent since 2009. Wait lists for rent geared to income housing provided by Yukon Housing and the Grey Mountain Housing Society add up to at least 175 files (not individuals) as of February. People need more affordable housing options.

It is disingenuous to suggest that the market has responded to this need. In fact, developers and private industry have stated for years that it is cost prohibitive to build multi-unit rental accommodation. Yukon Housing’s attempts in the spring of 2012 to have affordable housing built on Lot 262 on Range Road demonstrated that in spades.

In fact, as far as we know, there has not been a multi-unit rental building built by a private enterprise since those built on Cook Street about a decade ago. Given that Yukon Housing received 22 proposals through a very public request process from private contractors and non-profits last fall, one could assume both the interest and the need were there.

We know it has been lucrative for the private sector to build condominiums and town houses. And we understand that. We also know that owners and landlords will charge what the market will bear. That is why more housing options are needed for people who cannot afford the market price.

The stories that the anti-povery coalition was hearing six years ago when we started our housing task force have not changed. We are still hearing from people who can’t find housing, who can’t afford housing or who are living in difficult or unsafe situations. We are hearing from people who are not looking to buy a house, but who want a safe and affordable place to rent. We are hearing not only from people working at low-paying jobs, or on social assistance, but young people with new jobs. Families. New residents. New Canadians. People who want to live and work in Whitehorse but are living in their car, in a tent, on a couch or with other families in order to make ends meet.

Would these proposed 75 units have filled the variety of housing needs in Whitehorse? No, they wouldn’t. Would they have caused the market to shift? Probably a little. Would some Whitehorse residents have had better housing because of it? We think so. Is it the job of Yukon Housing to help ensure residents have more and better housing options? We believe it is.

So, now that this project is dead, there is still $11.5 million plus interest sitting in the Yukon government’s general revenues for affordable housing. And who knows what the next steps will be or how much longer we will have to wait for new affordable housing stock to be built.

Apparently the Yukon Real Estate Association and the Yukon Landlords Association will be involved in deciding how this money should be spent. Obviously we would hope those in need of the housing in question will be a part of the decision making as well.

Given how this decision was made, we’re not holding our breath.

Charlotte Hrenchuk and Bill Thomas are co-chairs of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

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

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Whitehorse sewage lagoons photographed in 2011. With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Pondering pollutants

City could spend $70,000 looking at what contaminents are in waste water

Most of Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 graduates. The former students were welcomed back and honoured by staff at the school on Oct. 14 with a personalized grad ceremony for each graduate. (Submitted)
Individual Learning Centre grads honoured

Members of the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 were welcomed… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

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

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

asdf
COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Evan Lafreniere races downhill during the U Kon Echelon Halloweeny Cross-Country Race on Oct. 16. (Inara Barker/Submitted)
Costumed bike race marks end of season

The U Kon Echelon Bike Club hosted its final race of the… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Most Read