Affordable housing for Whitehorse cancelled

The Yukon government has pulled the plug on plans for affordable housing in Whitehorse. The much-trumpeted plan was to spend the remaining $13 million from the Northern Housing Trust.

The Yukon government has pulled the plug on plans for affordable housing in Whitehorse.

The much-trumpeted plan was to spend the remaining $13 million from the Northern Housing Trust to cover up to half the building costs for developers who promise affordable housing.

Five projects had been identified, the Yukon Housing Corporation said, including 75 bachelor and one-bedroom apartments in Whitehorse.

The final step was for the government’s management board, which Minister Brad Cathers described as “cabinet wearing a financial hat and making financial decisions,” to give the green light.

That didn’t happen.

Now only eight units will be built, and only in the communities: six two-bedroom apartments are being built in Carmacks and two one-bedroom units in Carcross.

Cathers, the minister responsible for the housing corporation, said the government is listening to concerned realtors and landlords.

The Yukon Real Estate Association and the Yukon Residential Landlord Association publicly criticized the plan, which would have partially funded developers if they promised to keep rents below median rates for 10 years.

They said the plan would flood an already full market and hurt landlords who did not get any government help.

“We heard input from stakeholders who’ve noted significant increases in the supply of both lots and housing units as a result of a combination of government actions and private sector actions,” Cathers said.

He said the government heard from many who “feel that the market has softened since the last statistics that government had on this” and warned that the government’s plan “could in fact create unintended negative consequences. This includes putting at risk privately-funded housing projects that are currently underway.”

Cathers pointed to Brookside Development’s plans to build 120 homes with 80 basement suites in Crestview as one example. The company was considering changing its plans if the affordable housing plan went through, the minister said.

“The rents that they are looking at, that they’ve indicated to us, include some that would be quite competitive with what’s considered affordable rent,” Cathers said.

The business saw the government’s plan as unfair and said “it would likely result in them deciding not to proceed with their current development plans because of concern that they were potentially losing the market for those affordable rentals,” Cathers said.

By stepping away from subsidizing 75 affordable housing units in Whitehorse the government is allowing this larger project to be built, he said.

“So one of the specific considerations is, whether government steps in the market, subsidizes commercial rental units and actually the net result is a larger project with fairly similar rates would potentially not proceed as a result.”

But without any government funding there’s no guarantee that the rents will stay at an affordable rate.

Brookside co-owner Dale Best confirmed the basement apartments would be rented out by the individual owners at market rate. So far six one-bedrooms are on the market, with all being rented for between $900 and $1,000 a month.

The lastest statistics would have put the proposed government-subsidized units at about $900 a month.

Best said the basement apartments in his development are 66 square metres (715 square feet.) That’s bigger than what the government had planned.

The federal government in 2006 established the $300-million Northern Housing Trust.

The territory received $50 million over three years. The Yukon government kept about $17.5 million of that and the rest went to various First Nations.

But the money sat in the government coffers for years, leading to repeated criticism from the opposition parties.

Betty’s Haven, a 10-suite facility that offers transitional housing for for women and children fleeing abuse, got $4.5 million.

This latest push was supposed to use up the remaining $13 million.

The two remaining projects being funded in the communities, which will be built by the development corporations of the local First Nations, will eat up about $1.3 million.

As for what happens to the rest of the money now, Cathers said he’s “not in a position to announce exactly how that will be used.”

The government is still working on its housing action plan for Yukon, he said.

Cathers said he is formally inviting the real estate and landlord associations to become more involved in that process to identify “what some potential future actions could be within the range of the housing continuum from home ownership to shelters and social housing including affordable rental accommodations.”

He admits that developers who thought they’d be getting government funds could be upset by this turn of events.

“I certainly do acknowledge that, as with any process, if someone has gone through it and hopes to be successful, they probably would not be happy to hear that project that they thought they were going to receive funding for is not going to be funded.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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