Builder speaks out over affordable housing cancellation

Antonio Zedda says he never would have applied to build affordable housing in Whitehorse had he known the project could have gone this way.

Antonio Zedda says he never would have applied to build affordable housing in Whitehorse had he known the project could have gone this way.

He was forced to watch in silence as landlords and real estate agents spoke out at the last minute against a government plan to build rentals, a plan that had been public since last year.

He’d been told he was approved by the housing corporation for funding to build rentals in Whitehorse, but contractually he couldn’t say anything until the final details were worked out.

He’s not under that contractual obligation anymore.

Zedda is a partner in Kobayashi and Zedda Architects Ltd., a Whitehorse-based architecture and planning firm. It was one of three builders approved by Yukon Housing Corporation to build some of the 75 affordable rentals in Whitehorse.

The project was cancelled at the eleventh hour by the Yukon government, leaving Zedda and two other developers burned.

“Why would I waste my time and my money knowing that somebody is going to change their mind after all this process is completed?” Zedda said yesterday.

“We entered into these things with the understanding and the assumption that this is going to happen. If someone had said, ‘Well, we’re not quite sure this is going to go ahead’ … I would have never submitted in the first place.”

Zedda is the first of the three developers involved in the cancelled project to speak publicly about what could have been.

He was planning to build on the motorways site across from the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

The three-storey building would have had 27 one-bedroom units. Three of those apartments would have been wheelchair accessible.

According to a package that had already been prepared on the project, rents would have been set at $795.

The housing corporation was prepared to cover $2.5 million of the $6 million construction budget, he said.

Zedda said he never received any formal word from the government that the project, which he had spent $20,000 on, had been cancelled.

“I didn’t hear from the housing corp. and I didn’t hear from the government, at least not formally. Like I said, I didn’t receive a letter from anybody saying, ‘We regret to inform you that…’ I got nothing from anyone,” he said.

In October 2013, the Yukon Housing Corporation released a request for qualifications, asking businesses and non-profits for ideas to develop affordable rentals.

Two months later 22 proponents came forward with ideas. Nine proponents with projects in four communities advanced to the next step, a request for proposals, in February of this year.

Of those, the housing corporation’s board approved five. In the end, the government cancelled three projects for Whitehorse that would have made up 75 apartments. Two projects in the communities were approved.

The process that led to the selection of the affordable housing plans was well-publicized and open to everyone, Zedda points out.

“We spent a ton of time, a considerable amount of our own money, our own time, to do this, with the understanding that this was going to be a real project.”

He denies claims by realtors and landlords that with time the rental rates will correct themselves.

“This isn’t a recent demand, we’ve been having this need for affordable housing at least acutely for the last five years. The vacancy rate proves that there’s a huge demand out there.”

If he’d been given the green light, Zedda said construction could have started before the end of the summer. The building would have been up by sometime mid-summer next year.

Zedda maintains that government incentives are the only way to get affordable housing built.

Unlike condos, that can be built and sold off individually, rentals take longer to be profitable since you’re only earning small amounts every month, he said.

“Why most people are building condos instead of apartments is because there’s a return there that’s been reasonable. You’re in and out in a short period of time. You know what you’re going to make and you can move on and do something else with it.”

Concerns that these rentals would have harmed other landlords and flooded the market don’t hold water with Zedda either.

“Really, the demographic that we were catering to has very little impact on existing apartment owners. We were catering to a market that’s just not being dealt with by anyone.”

As a business owner, he says he’s seen the need first-hand. That’s why he decided to get involved.

“Between my different companies I have about 50 employees and we were having a really hard time finding accommodations for those employees and it had an impact on whether we could actually keep the employees,” he said.

“Our whole idea was based on the fact that we wanted to do something downtown and we wanted to do something that provided small, affordable units that would be geared to the demographic that were my employees, whether they be in the cafe at Baked, whether they be in the construction company, whether they be here in the office for Kobayashi and Zedda, like summer students.”

The public perception that landlords will just turn around and “condo-ize” their rentals as soon as the 10-year window is done, is also a mistake, Zedda said.

“I don’t think I can condo-ize the units that I was proposing. My units are 350 square feet. The building hasn’t been designed to be a condo building, it’s been designed to be an apartment building.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

g
Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Whitehorse RCMP will provide internet safety training due to an uptick of child luring offences. (iStock photo)
RCMP hosting internet safety webinars for parents and caregivers

The webinars will take place on March 23 and 25

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Most Read