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Cheap condos address one need, expose another

Northern Vision Development is addressing the need for affordable housing in Whitehorse.But in the process, it has exposed another need —…

Northern Vision Development is addressing the need for affordable housing in Whitehorse.

But in the process, it has exposed another need — affordable rental options.

Northern Vision is converting Summit House Apartments in Hillcrest into 23 condos that start at $122,000.

“It’s a great opportunity for lower cost housing that is still good quality, and it meets a need that exists right now,” said Northern Vision president Piers McDonald, standing outside the complex on Thursday.

The residents get first dibs on the condos at a discounted rate, said Northern Vision property manager Mindy Beaudoin.

But many Summit House residents still can’t afford them.

“It’s basically buy or get out,” said Andria Lang, who’s been living in the complex for almost a year.

“A lot of people are pretty upset because they’re being forced to buy a place they don’t want to buy, or find a new place to live — but there’s nowhere to go.”

Lang has a three-month-old baby and a two-year-old.

“We’re a one-income family,” she said. “And we’ve already started looking (for a new place), but we can’t find anything we can afford.

“Everything is $1,200 or more, even apartments.”

Lang is currently paying $820 a month for her two-bedroom and that includes heat.

Hopefully no one will be forced to move if they don’t want to, said Beaudoin.

If residents don’t want to buy the condos, ideally they’ll be sold to investors who want tenants, she said.

And there are currently six vacant apartments, so if a new owner doesn’t want tenants, renters could be moved to one of these places, added Beaudoin.

“I think they’re going to go fast because they’re selling them cheap,” said Lang.

“I plan to leave by the end of October, because then I’ll be out by winter.”

It’s not likely investors will purchase the condos and not move in, said another resident who’s lived at Summit House for 10 years.

“And even if they didn’t move in, they’d probably raise the rent.”

Her two-bedroom is selling for $159,000.

“I can’t afford it,” she said.

“And my problem is there’s not a lot available in terms of affordability. Even cheap trailers that aren’t in good shape are pretty expensive.”

If it comes down to it, she may end up living with a friend for a few months, she said.

“Or I might have to put all my stuff in storage and find a room.”

Northern Vision only gave residents a couple weeks to decide if they wanted to buy, she added.

“That’s not much notice.”

And when the apartments sell, residents who aren’t purchasing or staying on as tenants will only get one month notice.

Northern Vision sent a four-page letter to all tenants outlining their options, said Beaudoin.

The company’s heard back from 60 per cent of the residents and, of that, half are interested in buying, she said.

“We knew something was up when they started doing renos,” said another tenant.

“But we just thought our rent was going to go up.

“It would be nice if they let us know when they started doing the renos. A month’s notice is a little crazy.

“I’ve given my name to Whitehorse housing, but they’re list is long — I may have to store my stuff.”

This tenant also can’t afford to buy his place.

“The price they told me, there’s no way — it’s well over $100,000 — I’d be paying a mortgage and condo fees too.”

Northern Vision did give him a great reference, he added.

And in its four-page letter to all residents, the company also offers to contribute to the cost of moving the resident’s furnishings to another Whitehorse location.

“If all developers in town were as kind as (Northern Vision) we’d all be a lot better off,” said Grant Lundy, who’s lived at Summit for seven years.

Lundy plans to buy a condo.

“I might even buy two,” he said.

“They’re not cutthroat developers; they’re extremely fair.”

Buyers have a number of upgrades to choose from, including lighting, bathroom, appliance, kitchen and door packages. Each comes with an added cost.

All apartments are getting new finishing and flooring, added McDonald.

And during the renos, residents will be “put up in our hotels,” he said.

If an investor buys the condo, the renters will also be put up during the renos, said Beaudoin.

And residents that do opt to buy get more than $4,000 off a two-bedroom condo’s base price, according to the four-page letter.

Summit House is one of the few residential properties Northern Vision owns, she said.

“Northern Vision is mostly concentrated in commercial and we see all these condos going up and they’re so expensive and not a good investment,” she said.

“So we looked into building condos, but unless you own the construction crew, it’s impossible to sell them for less than $200,000,” said Beaudoin.

That’s when it came up with the idea to renovate its existing apartments and sell them off.

“Because we aren’t constructing a new building, we’re able to sell the one-bedroom apartments for $122,000,” she said.

Summit House will be renamed The Heights and will be formally registered as a condominium in October.