Dawson grapples with housing problems

Dawson City is protesting the demolition of the old Korbo apartments. "The town is growing," said Mayor Peter Jenkins. "There's a shortage of lots of all descriptions.

Dawson City is protesting the demolition of the old Korbo apartments.

“The town is growing,” said Mayor Peter Jenkins. “There’s a shortage of lots of all descriptions. There’s a shortage of housing. There’s an acute shortage of housing for the students of Yukon College and the Yukon School of Visual Arts and they only have a limited capacity to pay.”

The town is suggesting that instead of tearing down the condemned 13-apartment building on Sixth Avenue between Queen and Princess streets, the Yukon Housing Corporation should reclaim it and offer it to students at the same rate Yukon College offers student residences in Whitehorse.

The original apartment building was assembled in the early 1950s. It came to the Klondike from another mining community as multiple trailers. The trailers were then stacked on top of one another and a facade was built around them.

Since then, it has been updated continuously, said Jenkins.

“But it’s not perfect,” he said. “There’s very few buildings that meet current code; they meet the code of the day they were built.”

But the old, rundown structure has other problems, too.

Last October, fuel spilled behind and beneath the building.

“Irrespective of occupancy, they are going to have to remediate that spill,” said Jenkins.

And it is not accessible to the handicapped.

But there are plenty of examples of condemned buildings that have been rehabilitated and serve perfectly well in the northern community, he said.

The Yukon School of Visual Arts’ main building is one of them.

It used to be a liquor store. It was condemned by the Yukon government until lobbying forced a rebuild.

The old Robert Service School was condemned before it was split up into several functional buildings. The largest section was turned into the centre wing of the Westmark Hotel and the other became a duplex, said Jenkins.

“So a lot of the buildings, although they’ve been condemned, they’ve been turned over and utilized for other purposes,” he said.

The housing corporation hasn’t officially decided what it is doing with the old Korbo building just yet.

They haven’t had the time.

The apartment building built to replace the Korbo should be completed soon, said corporation president Ron MacMillan, adding the plan is to move the current Korbo occupants into the new building this summer.

And the new building, located across the street from the swimming pool at the south end of town, is bigger, with more than 24 units.

“We’re still working our way through this file,” said MacMillan. “The option of taking the building down is probably at the forefront right now because we’re taking into consideration the age of the building, the costs involved with retaining the building and the significant oil spill that we had.”

Housing is needed, said Charles Stankievech, an instructor at the Yukon School of Visual Arts.

“In order for SOVA to grow into its projected future, we do need stable housing for our students and possibly visiting instructors,” he said. “Every year, I’m wrestling with students in my classes balancing getting work done and dealing with freezing pipes or moving several times throughout the year as they migrate from home to home, causing difficulty for them to stay focused in the classroom.

“If we had functional and suitable housing to support SOVA’s programming, this could be a valuable asset – not only to increase the size of the student body at SOVA, but also to support new programming during the summer months when the housing shortage is critical.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com