The affordable housing pinch hurts everyone

Bill Thomas, Charlotte Hrenchuk and Hannah Zimmering Members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition are struggling to understand the decision-making process and evidence being used when deciding how to spend the $8 million remaining in the Northern Housin

Bill Thomas,

Charlotte Hrenchuk

and Hannah Zimmering

Members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition are struggling to understand the decision-making process and evidence being used when deciding how to spend the $8 million remaining in the Northern Housing Trust Fund. We know others are also questioning who is being consulted and how the spending of federal funds will match findings of Yukon government’s Housing Action Plan.

We question why the vacancy rate for all kinds of housing is being used as the marker for the availability of affordable rental housing in Whitehorse. We know the market is segmented. Simplifying the data is not a transparent approach. Lumping single detached housing, condominiums and duplexes with apartments does not provide a clear picture. According to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, there is a 2.3 per cent vacancy rate for apartment units under $1,000 in Whitehorse – that’s fewer than 20 units across the city.

We are wondering why median rents, which have been on the rise since 2005, are barely discussed. Why is the government not doing its homework and finding out the percentage of Yukon people that are living in housing that costs more than 30 per cent of their net income (the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s definition of affordability)? Why not analyze those gaps and spend the money based on a complete picture?

We know, for example, that when people make $15/hour, an affordable rental rate based on CMHC’s definition of affordability would be $780/month. When making minimum wage, an affordable rent would be $557/month. Median rents currently sit at $900/month.

If the analysis were done and the reality of the housing situation were acknowledged, members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition believe multi-unit rental accommodation would be in highest demand.

We know that the private market will not build this kind of housing without government incentives. The real estate market has proven this; contractors have confirmed it. Just to be clear, we are not talking about condominiums and duplexes, we are talking about multi-unit buildings (apartments) adding to density and choice for citizens – low-income earners, new Canadians, young workers, people in need of supports that come to where they live.

There are many people in need and many solutions. We have yet to hear that decisions will be made based on facts or that all stakeholders will be heard. Or even that decisions will be made based on the last 11 months of work on the government’s Housing Action Plan.

How about providing support to Grey Mountain Housing? How about using the money to support a plan to end homelessness? How about building more social housing? How about providing incentives to contractors to build more affordable housing? How about buying already constructed housing and contracting non-profits to provide supports? These options would give everyone, including the most vulnerable in our community, an opportunity to thrive. And they have all been proposed through the Housing Action Plan.

We don’t believe the current way of doing business is good enough for the citizens of the territory. It’s not good for any of us – not for people looking for housing, not for people wishing to live here, not for those building the housing, not for the bureaucrats doing the policy work, not the politicians, not the advocates, not the landlords nor the real estate agents.

It is time our government did their homework, used the information available to them and spent the federal money on what it was meant for – housing pure and simple. Housing that fills gaps in the continuum and supports all sectors of the community.

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

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