In Dawson City, where a lack of affordable rental apartments is a perennial problem, residents were quick to jump at the chance to move into a new multi-unit apartment building opening in June.
Twenty-two applications to the Klondike Development Organization (KDO), the non-profit organization running the building, came in for eight apartments. Dawson has a population of about 2,200.
Tenants were chosen in a lottery yesterday.
“We had 22 applications, so that’s a pretty good indication that there’s a housing shortage,” said Brian Stethem, president of KDO.
Like many communities in the Yukon, Dawson’s rental market is notoriously tight.
Official statistics from this time last year show no available units with two or more rooms and only four vacant spots in smaller apartments.
There were three available units in October of 2016, one bachelor and two one-bedroom units.
The problem can be particularly bad in the summer when the employees of seasonal businesses return to town.
Stethem called the lack of affordable housing one of the biggest gaps in Dawson’s economic development.
“We’ve had people come up and teach at (the School of Visual Arts), for instance, and lived on people’s couches,” he said.
“If you come to a community and get a job and can’t find a reasonably good place to live it kind of takes the desire to be there away, I think.”
The new building has six one-bedroom and two two-bedroom units. It’s not government-run social housing. Rents range from $875 to $1,225 a month, which is essentially market rate, Stethem said.
To qualify for the draw, would-be tenants had to prove they could afford the rent and have a maximum household income of $78,800 per year.
It’s aimed at tenants who are employed but are having a hard time finding a place to live, Stethem said.
With the exception of one person, everyone who applied lives in Dawson.
Stethem said he hopes these units will mean more available rentals for other people.
He also thinks its possible that some Yukon Housing clients could qualify to live in the new building. Freeing up Yukon Housing units would make room for those on the waiting list.
The corporation confirmed there are eight people on the Dawson list right now.
The organization was able to build the $1.47-million building thanks to funding from the territorial and federal government as well as a mortgage backed by the city.
“The construction costs are very high in Dawson. I guess no one seemed to want to take it on,” Stethem said.
“That being said, now that we’ve done this, perhaps that will spur some people into thinking about it because it is viable.”
It will take about 10 years before the building starts turning a profit, he said.
“Eventually it will start to show a profit but that money will probably either get gobbled up in refurbishments or perhaps invested in other similar projects.”
The organization has already had an “initial conversation” about a possible future project, he said.
Dawson misses out on economic opportunities and innovation when it can’t house people, said Mayor Wayne Potoroka.
“Providing spaces increases the opportunities for everybody, not just the people that are actually finding a place to live,” he said.
Potoroka said the new building is an example of the town working together to solve its own problems.
The Klondike Development Organization is a partnership between the City of Dawson, Dawson City Chamber of Commerce, Klondike Visitors Association, Dawson City Arts Society and Chief Isaac Incorporated, the development corporation of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
It has been talking about a building like this since about 2009.
Potoroka is realistic in terms of how much this one building will do to solve Dawson’s rental woes.
“It’s a reminder that we still have more work to do,” he said. “Because there are more people that want into that building than we have room for. We need to work even harder than we already are.”
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