City challenged to fix housing shortage

Politicians heard two impassioned pleas to examine the housing shortage at Monday's council meeting. "There is no question we are facing a crisis," said Bill Thomas, a Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition co-chair.

Politicians heard two impassioned pleas to examine the housing shortage at Monday’s council meeting.

“There is no question we are facing a crisis,” said Bill Thomas, a Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition co-chair.

Council must help shape a co-ordinated approach to solve the housing crisis, he said.

“I think it really comes down to what kind of community do we want to live in, and what kind of values we want to live by.” With both the short and long-term housing shortages, meeting the challenge would not be easy, he added.

“Every suggestion for change is met with an element of resistance.”

The short-term housing problem was also on Nancy Tanner’s agenda.

The manager of the Beez Kneez hostel is concerned about the impact the housing shortage will have on the upcoming tourist season.

Hotels are filled with workers leaving little room for visiting tourists this summer, she said.

“Tourism is huge in the Yukon,” said Tanner. “The government is inviting people to come here, but there is nowhere for them to stay.”

The pleas resonated with council.

“We just had a presentation about the housing shortage and we’re spending $2.5 million on a lagoon,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. “Sometimes I wonder about government priorities, I really do.”

The sewage lagoon project is part of the Whistle Bend development that could see as many as 10,000 houses built. City engineers presented the project shortly after Thomas and Tanner spoke.

Though it will bolster the housing supply, Whistle Bend still years away from completion and Irwin wonders what kind of impact that $2.5 million could made if it was spent on housing directly.

Politicians held an in camera meeting to discuss city branding the next day, but the housing crisis surfaced again.

The city will take the lead on this issue, said Coun. Ranj Pillai as he left the meeting.

But, with commodity prices booming and the mining industry in a frenzy, the summer going to be crowded.

And it will be difficult for the city to tackle it directly, said Pillai.

“We don’t have the ability or infrastructure to offset these negative impacts,” said Pillai. “It’s going to be private business, really, that makes those decisions.”

The politicians seem to understand the issue, said Thomas.

But the city is limited in what it can do under the municipal act to deal with the issue, he added.

“The more you explore it the harder the problem gets,” said Thomas. “Not to be melodramatic, but I’m not sure how much longer the situation can be tolerated.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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