The Safe At Home Society is calling for no-cause evictions to be prohibited, the creation of a landlord registry in the territory and for short-term and vacation rentals to be regulated in the City of Whitehorse.
They were among a list of 10 calls to action released Aug. 9 in an effort to address the homelessness crisis in Whitehorse.
“We really felt we needed to start somewhere,” Safe At Home executive director Kate Mechan told a crowd gathered at Rotary Park for the event, which also included a community barbecue. “As a team at Safe at Home our daily calls for support are growing. The face of homelessness is changing and we’re not feeling that all of the tools that we have at our disposal are being dispatched.”
Mechan highlighted the most recent number on the Whitehorse by-name list showing 206 households, including 64 children under the age of 16 experiencing homelessness as of July. The list is made up of people experiencing homelessness who have requested to be added to it to receive housing.
Mechan described the homelessness numbers as “inexcusable in a resource rich community like we are.”
She said that while housing supply is an important part of the equation in dealing with homelessness, there are other important actions that can also be taken to help make sure people stay housed.
“So let’s wrap our heads around what we can be doing together, all levels of government, community members, our neighbourhoods, or as organizations and just as human beings to keep people safe,” she said before she and Neena Mackinnon, the organizations’s coordinated access coordinator, highlighted each of the 10 calls to action.
A number of the actions have the potential to be dealt with through territorial legislation and programs including the prohibition no-cause evictions, which would fall under the Yukon Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. It was pointed out the territory is one of the only jurisdictions in the country to allow no-cause evictions. It was presented that such a prohibition would protect tenants allowing them more stability.
As Mechan pointed out, no-cause evictions create a loophole on the rental cap that’s been established.
“Landlords can evict an existing tenant and then raise rent above the rental cap in advance of incoming tenants,” she said. “So without both policy mechanisms — rent caps and mechanisms to keep people housed — our rent cap can never perform the function that it’s supposed to have. So we call for the immediate prohibition of no cause evictions under Yukon’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act.”
Another call would ban evictions related to arrears, or unpaid rent, and eliminate debt-free requirements for those on income support or on a fixed income.
An expansion to the rent supplement program for those receiving income support and housing benefits would help those who need it most, while more frequent reporting from Yukon Housing about vacancies and their occupancy numbers would enable the corporation to identify where to target supports and resources and make more data-driven decisions, officials said.
The creation of a landlord registry as well as a Yukon Tenants Association was also included in the calls to action. The landlord registry, it was noted, could include information on the amount of rent landlords charge and have charged in the past, the number of units they own, and any complaints filed against them. Meanwhile, the tenant’s association would provide an avenue for tenants to advocate for their rights to housing.
Financial resources and supports to help address bedbug infestations are also highlighted in the calls to action as a way of helping residents stay housed. For seniors and those with mobility challenges, Safe At Home officials explained, it can be difficult to prepare for bed bug treatment and if a unit is not prepared and treated properly, tenants may face eviction.
Another concept would see Yukon University students matched with seniors who have extra space in their homes for housing. It’s a concept that’s been done in other cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Kingston among others.
A call to employers to ensure new recruits are fully informed about the territory’s housing situation was also recommended, as was greater City of Whitehorse regulations for short-term and vacation rentals.
It was noted the most recent stats on short-term rentals in the city from 2019 show 186 short-term rentals in the city, of which 44 had potential to be long-term rental suites.
“The same analysis indicates that regulations could lead to a significant increase in a vacancy rate,” Mackinnon said. “In light of a resurgence of tourism, and the easing of pandemic restrictions, the need to revisit these regulations is apparent. We call on the City of Whitehorse to regulate short term and vacation rentals across the City of Whitehorse.”
Whitehorse city councillor Michelle Friesen, who attended the event, said she was surprised by the number of short-term rentals and plans to bring the issue up when council reconvenes in September after its summer recess, which began Aug. 8. She pointed out it’s nearly a 1:1 ratio in terms of households on the by-name list to the number of short-term rentals.
The issue of short-term rentals had come up during her election campaign in 2021 with Friesen favouring looking at the possibility of regulating short-term rentals in a similar way to hotels.
She pointed out though any decisions would have to involve all of council.
“It’s definitely a conversation I’m interested in having,” she said.
Friesen also cited transparency and communications as an important piece, along with the potential that could come from the proposed program to match university students with seniors.
“I think it would be amazing to have youth and elders together like that,” she said. “And there’s so much that each of them can gain through those experiences.”
Ranj Pillai, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corp., also spoke to the calls for action in an emailed statement, noting the territory will be discussing the proposals with Safe At Home.
“Safe at Home is a key partner in tackling homelessness in the Yukon, and we know that we need work together will all partners to address housing pressures,” he said. “It is great to have community organizations proposing solutions to the housing challenges facing Yukoners. We look forward to discussing these proposals with Safe at Home, our counterpart governments and our housing partners across the territory.”
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org