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Boxes, not people, fill Yukon Housing rooms

Yukon Housing has more than 30 single rooms sitting vacant at the former athlete's village. They've been empty since the Canada Winter Games four years ago. "These buildings were built to house 1,800 athletes a week."

Yukon Housing has more than 30 single rooms sitting vacant at the former athlete’s village.

They’ve been empty since the Canada Winter Games four years ago.

“These buildings were built to house 1,800 athletes a week,” said Yukon Housing policy and communications director JoAnne Harach.

“And the basements were never designed as permanent accommodation.”

The rooms are 12 feet by 23 feet, with small windows and 10-foot ceilings.

Shared, immaculate bathrooms are down the hall.

With clean carpeting and freshly painted walls, they would be a big step up for residents at the Roadhouse Inn.

The low-income hotel is closing its doors at the end of February, and most of its 23 residents have no place to go.

Other hotels that rent by the month, like the Chilkoot and the Family Hotel, are already full.

And Yukon Housing has more than 142 clients on its waitlist.

But it’s never considered using the vacant rooms at the former athlete’s village.

“We have not looked at that,” said Harach. “It was not designed for that.

“And if government ever looked at that, my own feeling is it would be cost prohibitive.”

But Harach isn’t sure how much it would actually cost.

Yukon Housing hasn’t done any studies, she said.

To turn the rooms into residences, Yukon Housing would “need to investigate what it would have to do to comply with (the building) code,” said Harach.

“And we have not gone there.”

Putting tenants in the rooms would contravene the code, she added.

But she couldn’t say why.

“I am not a technical person so I can’t tell you exactly,” she said.

And Yukon Housing doesn’t plan on looking into it.

“Because we are not doing that,” said Harach.

After the athletes left, the two buildings were reallocated: one became a student residence and the other was designated social housing.

“When it was built, we knew it would be social housing,” said Harach.

“But we were not sure it would be seniors’ housing until early 2007.”

At that point, “a number of seniors in existing social housing were given first option if they wanted to relocate into that building,” she said.

Each building has 48 suites on the top three floors, as well as 43 rooms in the basement.

During the Games, each basement room housed eight athletes.

To house that many athletes in each room required full-time supervision, said Harach.

Today, the rooms in the basement of the student residence are being used for office space, which complies with the code.

In the seniors’ building, some of the 43 rooms have been converted into programming space, said Harach.

There’s a communal room with a pool table and couches, a kitchen area, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, a computer room, a hair salon and an exercise room.

“As part of our building permit, zoning is public institutional, so we can’t have a fully residential building, we have to provide space for programming,” she said.

But even with the programming space, there are still 30 rooms sitting empty.

Yukon Housing is using the empty rooms for storage, said Harach.

The rooms will not be offered to clients on its waitlist, she said.

“Because we are building lots of other social housing - $50 million plus.”

Fifty-six seniors’ units are being built in Faro, Teslin, Watson Lake and Whitehorse.

There are also 44 family units being built in Whitehorse.

But there is nothing suitable for the single men and women who are living in Whitehorse hotel rooms.

Even if rooms were made available at the former athlete’s village, clients from the Roadhouse might not be a good fit, said Harach.

“We need to look at compatibility with existing tenants,” she said.

Yukon Housing’s resources are focused elsewhere, she added.

“We are flat out with deadlines for the economic stimulus funding, which has a significant timeline attached.”

And if there is any surplus, Yukon Housing is planning to replace some of its doublewide trailers.

“We want to get the money used to build as much social housing as we can,” said Harach.

Contact Genesee Keevil at