A Yukon home for the cost of your firstborn

Twenty-nine-year-old Colin Asselstine has lived in Destruction Bay for 14 years. He's been actively looking for a home in the small community for the past 12.

DESTRUCTION BAY

Twenty-nine-year-old Colin Asselstine has lived in Destruction Bay for 14 years. He’s been actively looking for a home in the small community for the past 12.

Asselstine has been living in staff accommodations at the Talbot Arm Motel and Fas Gas, where he works as a clerk. For seven years that meant living in one of the motel rooms.

These days he and his wife have a staff trailer on the motel property. They’ve just celebrated their first anniversary and their first child is expected in January.

Now they want a permanent home.

Two years ago, the Yukon government started to listen to the community’s call for a large-scale development, like a subdivision.

“The battle for this has probably been 10 years in the making,” said Asselstine in an interview.

“The government was very slow on receiving it, initially. We’ve been pushing the government to introduce a subdivision, or some land availability, for people to build and reside here.”

Finally this fall, the Yukon government put five lots up for lottery in the country-residential Glacier Acres subdivision. It was the first lottery for the community of 47 since 1991.

For Asselstine and his wife, it looked like things were finally falling into place.

At least until they saw the prices the government was going to charge for the land.

They still entered the draw but were the only ones who did. Everyone else said it was too much money for poor-quality land, Asselstine said.

Within five years, the young family will have to pay more than $53,000 for the land.

With interest and tax it will end up closer to $60,000. They’ll also have to build a dwelling clad to weather, drill a well, construct a driveway and put in a water and sewer system between now and 2016.

As well, the young couple will have to foot the bill for the gravel that will be needed to stabilize the land before building on it.

During community meetings in Destruction Bay with the lands management branch, the Department of Community Services and Inukshuk Planning & Development Ltd., residents stressed the land selected is almost marshland.

“They didn’t listen to us on the placement of where we thought the lots should go,” said Asselstine. “This initial phase one of infill is basically swampy. It’s not the best land. It’s not horrible, but not the best. We told them that.

“Later on we got notices of what we were going to get. So basically, ‘This is it, this is what you’re going to get, and live with it.’”

The government says it did follow up on the concerns raised in the community meetings. Community Services spokesperson Matt King says the lot sizes were increased and road upgrades were approved, as per community requests.

The government also followed up on the concerns raised about poor water drainage by doing geotechnical and soil testing and sampling in that area, said King.

“None of the tests indicated a reason not to proceed with the development,” he said.

On top of the extra costs of gravel to deal with the poor land, Asselstine and the other potential lot owners will pay for a share of the costs to develop the second phase of the overall infill.

A road will be needed to make four more lots planned available, said King.

The cost to construct that road is divided between the entire development: phase one and phase two.

But the four lots and road of phase two will only happen if all of the five lots in the first phase are sold, King confirmed.

So essentially Asselstine will be helping to pay for development that may never happen.

“We fully expect to proceed with phase two,” said King. “The lot prices are set at the development costs. That’s a pretty standard practice. That’s how lot prices are set on multi-phase developments across the Yukon. It ensures the average price of the lot is as low as possible by spreading out the cost to develop the land over the maximum number of lots. The two phases are part of one project.”

The cost for the entire development is estimated at $474,000, said King, making the average lot price $52,600.

In the lottery earlier this month, the cheapest lot was listed at $49,555, the most expensive at $56,748.

Sitting in the Talbot Arm restaurant, Asselstine starts doing the math out loud: $3,000 to $6,000 to connect the power and electricity; $10,000 to $20,000 for a well and $15,000 to $20,000 for the septic system.

“And that doesn’t even get a house,” he said.

There are also costs for gravel and then the building itself, expected to cost $250 to $300 a square foot, he said. So far they’ve only been able to put a $14,000 downpayment on the property.

The total works out to about $500,000 for a modest home in Destruction Bay, Asselstine said, sighing and looking out the wall-length windows at the snow blowing down the Alaska Highway.

“We planned to build slowly, so we could afford it,” he said. “But we’re kind of getting an ass-kicking and having to pay a lot more for sub-par land than we originally figured and most people around here figured.”

Since moving to Destruction Bay, Asselstine has watched many young people leave because there was nowhere to live or it has been too expensive to build or buy.

“I love it here,” he said. “I’ve been here my whole adult life and really grew up here, in a way. I never want to leave, if I can stay here.”

As well as working for the motel, Asselstine picks up odd jobs whereever he can, working the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

With this new housing expense and a baby on the way, he doesn’t see any time off in the near future.

“It’s going to suck,” he said. “No vacations, no fun for a while. But I really want to be here.”

Plus, nowhere else in the territory is much better, he added.

“The entire Yukon seems to be having an issue with land availability and pricing and just the fact that it’s out to lunch,” he said. “We should be making land available, relatively cheaply, for people to move here and stay here and want to live here.

“We decided to buy into this because I want to live here. People think I’m crazy for doing it, but when you want to be somewhere, what can you do?”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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