Affordable housing ideas from Outside

Whitehorse isn't the only Canadian city to struggle through a housing crunch. Airdrie, Alberta, faced a similar crisis a few years ago. The Alberta town is about the same size as Whitehorse.

Whitehorse isn’t the only Canadian city to struggle through a housing crunch.

Airdrie, Alberta, faced a similar crisis a few years ago.

The Alberta town is about the same size as Whitehorse. And a couple of years ago it also experienced a shortage of affordable housing when commodity prices surged and the economy boomed.

Airdrie’s problems came to a head in July 2008, when oil prices reached a record $US147 a barrel.

“It was boom time in Alberta and rents were absolutely astronomical,” said Shelley Sweet, managing director of Airdrie Housing Limited.

With provincial funding, the city formed the nonprofit that year to combat the lack of affordable housing.

“The government of Alberta took a really aggressive approach with this because the boom was making appropriate housing very inaccessible for people,” said Sweet.

The nonprofit corporation was funded through municipal grants funneled through city from the provincial government, but it is set up as an independent organization.

“We have a board of directors, so we’re somewhat arm’s-length from the city,” said Sweet. “But we are administering funds that have come to the city on their behalf, and we’re very closely aligned with all of their key initiatives and their priorities.”

Airdrie Housing buys townhouses and condos around the city and rents them to people who meet its income threshold.

The rates it charges are about 10 per cent below market.

“It’s spread throughout the city in a very diverse way,” said Sweet. “The philosophy being there are a number of units all around the city purchased by this organization, but nobody knows necessarily if their neighbour is an affordable housing tenant, or not.”

So far, the nonprofit has purchased 12 condos, two townhouses and a 32-unit apartment building.

When they bought the apartment building, it was, “in danger of being converted into condominiums,” said Sweet.

“We wanted to keep it as rental housing,” she said. “We already had an extremely low rental pool.”

In Airdrie, just as in Whitehorse, a commercial rental apartment building had not been built for some time.

Almost all new multi-family buildings are sold as condos.

“While I think there’s some more rental opportunities with condominiums, the old notion of a building that’s just rental apartments doesn’t seem to exist anymore,” said Sweet. “Unless it’s built by social housing.”

The nonprofit also provides rent supplements of up to $300 a month for people in need who aren’t living in one of its units.

Providing affordable housing is vital for economic health, said Sweet.

“There are those people who are working out there in oil and gas, getting those higher salaries, but you also have an entire service industry in restaurants and retail markets that don’t get those kinds of wages, and never will,” she said. “You have to acknowledge that part of your population because they’re vital to making sure the economy works.”

In the last few years, Airdrie Housing has helped more than 300 people, said Sweet.

“We have testimonial after testimonial from people who were just struggling, but now they’re able to find some stability in their lives because they’re able to pay rent without having it hanging over their head every month and making a choice between rent or food.”

Setting up Airdrie Housing took $5.8 million in municipal grants, with an additional $3.2-million grant from the province to buy the apartment building.

The provincial program responsible for the seed money has expired, and Airdrie Housing now has to figure out how to sustain itself in the long term.

The board is considering a variety of fundraising options to keep itself afloat, said Sweet.

“Unfortunately, with the affordable housing situation you can’t really pass your costs on to your tenants – it would defeat the purpose,” she said.

When the recession hit and oil prices fell, the city got a reprieve.

But as prices creep up, the situation is far from certain.

“Vacancy rates can change on a dime,” said Sweet. “As soon as things pick up, and we’re already starting to see some of that, vacancy rates will go down to zero very quickly.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 5, 2021.… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. They formally announced that as of Nov. 20, anyone entering the territory (including Yukoners returning home) would be required to self-isolate with the exception of critical service workers, those exercising treaty rights and those living in B.C. border towns
Vaccinated people won’t have to self-isolate in the Yukon after May 25

Restaurants and bars will also be able to return to full capacity at the end of the month.

An RV pulls into Wolf Creek Campground to enjoy the first weekend of camping season on April 30, 2021. John Tonin/Yukon News
Opening weekend of Yukon campgrounds a ‘definite success’

The territorial campgrounds opened on April 30. Wolf Creek was the busiest park seeing 95 per cent of sites filled.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: rent caps and vaccines

To Sandy Silver and Kate White Once again Kate White and her… Continue reading

Most Read