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Athletes’ village goes to seniors

Two years and more than $34 million in federal, territorial and municipal money later, the post-Canada-Winter-Games future of the athletes’…

Two years and more than $34 million in federal, territorial and municipal money later, the post-Canada-Winter-Games future of the athletes’ village is no longer a mystery.

On Thursday, the Yukon Housing Corporation’s board of directors voted to award its $17-million-half of the two-building complex exclusively to seniors.

Seniors are thrilled by the decision.

“I’m very pleased that seniors have now secured more accommodation,” said Dorothy Drummond on Wednesday.

Drummond is the vice-president of the Yukon Council on Aging, but spoke to the News as an individual, she said.

“Our senior population is rapidly rising,” said Drummond. “I think it’s wonderful.”

Before the village is opened to seniors, it needs several post-Game retrofits.

After the Games, the Yukon Housing Corporation will take over the building then start work on the renovations.

The anticipated move in date is June or July, said vice-president Louise Girard.

Seniors hoping to move into one of the building’s 48 apartments will have to meet social-housing criteria to qualify, said Girard.

Those already living in social housing can apply once they turn 60; people who aren’t clients of the housing corporation, however, must be 65 or older before they’re eligible, she explained.

“We already have 23 names of people who have shown interest” in moving to the village, she said.

“That’s only of people we talked to who are in our units currently. We haven’t really done much advertising yet.”

Ross Findlater finds it difficult to hear those numbers.

The volunteer chair of the Whitehorse Planning Group on Homelessness has been pushing the corporation to mix senior residents at the village with single women and children fleeing abuse, as well as adults suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The groups need more social housing space, but have been ignored by the housing corp. decision, he said.

“If the need is such that only about 23 of the 48 units are identified at this point with potential residents, then that may speak to the need in that segment of the population,” said Findlater. “That certainly, to me, brings into question the decision they have made.

“We’ll be interested to hear from the Yukon Housing Corporation what plans they have to accommodate those other groups whose needs will be un-met by this single-target plan.”

The housing corporation board reviewed a letter from the planning group arguing groups of residents should be mixed at the village.

But the idea wasn’t endorsed, said Girard.

The final decision on the village’s future (the second building will be used as Yukon College residences) coincides with a change of heart from Whitehorse planners.

Whitehorse and the housing corporation have been at loggerheads for months over the zoning of the land the village was built on.

The rift was whether the building’s ‘public services’ zoning provided adequate services for future residents.

Services for a residential building where the village is situated were never part of Whitehorse’s official community plan.

Many feared that Whitehorse would force the Yukon Housing Corporation to seek a lengthy rezoning application if the dispute wasn’t resolved.

But Whitehorse has abruptly backed down.

“After an analysis, it was determined that no rezoning would be required, because the purpose and the use would fit within the ‘public service’ definition that’s currently in place,” said city manager Dennis Shewfelt on Tuesday.

“I think it (the dispute) largely stemmed from the misunderstanding of what the use was going to be,” he said.

“From the city perspective, the talk was all about seniors housing. It sounded very much like a for-profit mechanism, the same as any other apartment building.”

Shewfelt and other officials examined the building and determined it has services that will meet the needs of subsidized residents, he said.

Critics have charged that anyone other than the Yukon government would have to secure the proper zoning before building on city land.

But the unique time constraints of building the village in time for the Games messed with that process, said Shewfelt.

“This is a different situation in a sense,” he said. “When the announcements were made with respect to the village, the future use was contemplated, but wasn’t detailed.

“We said, ‘This is for the Games right now, and we’ll worry about looking at what it is later, once everybody’s got it figured out.’”