Co op complains of murky messages from government

More than 30 residents at the Whitehorse Housing Co-op in Granger are receiving “mixed messages” from politicians and the bureaucracy…

More than 30 residents at the Whitehorse Housing Co-op in Granger are receiving “mixed messages” from politicians and the bureaucracy about the co-op’s future, say members.

“There is conflicting information between the public servants and what the minister is saying,” Gilles Fontaine, a co-op spokesperson, said Thursday.

Last Friday, Jim Kenyon, the minister in charge of Yukon Housing Corporation, told The News that no decision has been made on the co-op’s future.

But corporation bureaucrats recently told Fontaine, and other residents, that a decision to turn the co-op into social housing has been made, Fontaine said.

“They told us that they had received a report and that the recommendation was the corporation would take on (the co-op’s) responsibilities, and that was the recommendation they were supporting,” he said.

“To us, that’s a decision made.”

In 2002, a former resident of the co-op fled with a large amount of its money, forcing the co-op into receivership.

The Yukon Housing Corporation became the trustee of the co-op’s six market-rent houses in 2003, leaving residents there without management powers and no idea whether the co-op will survive.

The housing corporation recently hired Toronto-based consulting firm Mintz & Partners to evaluate the co-op’s financial situation and recommend what to do with it.

Mintz & Partners did not talk to co-op residents, said Fontaine.

And the disparaging messages from the bureaucracy and Kenyon have offended some people, and cast efforts taken to restore control of the co-op to residents into doubt, Fontaine said.

The Federal Co-Operative Housing Stabilization Fund recently approved a loan of almost $300,000 for the co-op to pay off its debts and restore governance.

But as trustee, the Yukon Housing Corporation must co-sign that loan.

While the corporation didn’t explicitly refuse to co-sign, “by accepting the (Mintz & Partners) recommendation, that means they’re not going to support co-signing the loan,” Fontaine explained.

“We have the capacity to resolve this, but we need their support because they are the trustees,” he said.

Kenyon’s candid comment to The News, that residents are “not keen” to discuss making the co-op social housing for fear of losing their three-bedroom apartments for one-bedroom ones has irked the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

“The co-operative does not contain any plush apartments, but consists entirely of modest detached houses,” said Bob Nardi, a co-operative services consultant with the federation, in a letter to The News.

All residents at the co-op would qualify for social housing, Nardi said.

And the government’s apparent refusal to work toward restoring the co-op’s governance to its residents is also drawing fire from Nardi.

“The return of governance to co-operative members is unanimously supported by its residents, as well as CHF Canada, the Federal Co-operative Housing Stabilization Fund, the Yukon’s member of Parliament, and the leaders of two of three Yukon political parties,” said Nardi, in the letter.

The co-op’s houses are about 144 square metres in size, and rent, on average, for about $1,600 a month, said Fontaine.

Turning them into social housing would have minimal impacts on current residents, said Kenyon in a previous interview.

“We’re only talking about four people,” he said.

Kenyon is attempting to downplay public reaction to the government’s decision before announcing it, said Fontaine.

“He’s trying to dismiss the impact on people, saying that people are just concerned about losing their palatial setting, and we don’t agree with that,” said Fontaine.

“We’re not too sure what he’s talking about, because everyone would be affected if the co-op was taken over,” he said.

Kenyon has redirected the co-op’s concerns into “a personal issue,” Fontaine said.