The country’s deputy auditor general is admitting the lack of territorial government action taken to deal with long-standing housing issues in the Yukon is startling for him.
Andrew Hayes’ comment came in response to a question raised by the News during a news conference on the heels of a scathing auditor general of Canada’s report on Yukon housing. The report was released to the public and tabled May 25 to the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
“We found little progress has been made by either the Yukon Housing Corporation or the Department of Health and Social Services to fix long-standing issues affecting housing programs and services,” reads the report’s introductory statement online.
The report follows up on a 2010 audit on housing and a 2011 audit on health services and programs.
Despite launching several initiatives and action plans to address housing over the last decade, the report states the corporation and the department have not followed through on many of their commitments.
“When I looked at the fact that there are a number of different groups that require services from the department, and housing supports from both the department and the corporation, and they weren’t getting the housing that they needed, that was startling to me,” Hayes said.
The report concluded Yukoners with the greatest housing needs were not met by the Yukon Housing Corporation with adequate and affordable housing, and the department of Health and Social Services failed to support vulnerable Yukoners who were homeless or at risk of homelessness by giving them access to housing that met their needs.
“Without clear accountability and direction, effective coordination and cooperation with housing partners, and immediate action, long-standing and ongoing issues will persist. Transformative changes are required to support Yukoners in need of housing.”
The key gaps observed by the auditors included incomplete identification of housing needs, a long and growing waiting list for housing and problems in managing the existing housing stock.
Furthermore, the audit points out that the corporation and the department have not worked together or with housing partners to effectively get a handle on housing for those in need.
As of March 2021, the corporation was responsible for providing 744 social housing units and 80 rent supplement units to applicants who qualify for rental housing at below-market rents.
As of October 2021, the department’s portfolio consisted of about 90 emergency shelter beds or units, 40 transitional housing beds or units and more than 300 supportive housing beds or units that were within the scope of the audit.
Based on a point-in-time count, 151 people were experiencing homelessness in Whitehorse on April 13 and 14 of last year.
However, the report found that barriers in the design and delivery of social housing prevented residents in need from accessing social housing.
The report identified that the waiting list for social housing grew by 320 per cent – from 112 applicants to 463 applicants – from 2015 to 2021.
“With that kind of increase, it’s important for the corporation and the department to have a look at the needs of the population that we serve to identify ways to adjust the housing supply to meet the needs of the vulnerable,” Hayes said.
Most applicants on the waiting list for social housing were in priority groups, which include victims of violence, people needing medical accommodations, homeless people and mobility-challenged households.
The average time spent on the waiting list as of October 2021 was 1.4 years, compared with 1.1 years in 2014.
On average, it took people in priority groups 276 days to be housed, while the average time for those in non-priority groups was 141 days.
“We found that non-priority groups were getting housing faster than people who were on priority groups, which to us says that the prioritization system is broken,” Hayes said.
In addition, the corporation had not updated its list of priority groups to reflect the makeup of the Yukon.
Although the housing stock increased by 20 per cent over time, it was not enough to meet housing needs.
There has been stagnant progress made in addressing the deficiencies identified in previous audits, which the authors say is “concerning because the matters we raised have a direct impact on the housing needs of the most vulnerable Yukoners.”
Prior recommendations on strategic planning; corporate governance and performance measurement; setting direction for the health system; establishing, monitoring and measuring programs; and departmental monitoring and reporting had not been fully dealt with, according to the latest audit.
Moving forward, the audit advises the corporation and the department should set out actions and timelines for addressing both new and outstanding recommendations.
The report lays out nine recommendations, all of which the corporation and the department agreed to meet.
Minister Ranj Pillai, who is responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, told reporters during a press conference he takes the findings “very seriously.”
“We are going to do better,” Pillai said.
“Housing is a key determinant of health and vulnerable people should have access to adequate and safe housing, including support options.”
As a first step, the corporation and the department have signed onto a memorandum of understanding to acknowledge their accountability and chart their path forward.
In a May 25 release, Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said the report confirms what Yukoners have been experiencing in a “broken system” for over a decade under successive Yukon Party and Liberal governments.
The NDP statement highlights the “almost complete inability” of the corporation and the department to put existing plans and strategies into operation.
In a statement issued May 25 by the Yukon Party, housing critic Yvonne Clark blames the Liberals’ inaction for making the housing crisis worse.
Clark is calling for a review of social housing stock in all Yukon communities.
During a May 25 technical briefing following the release of the report, Philippe Mollet, vice president for the Yukon Housing Corporation, said the corporation and the department will coordinate their work and come up with an implementation plan to guide improvements to the system.
Mollet said the intent is to have that plan in place by November.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com