Whitehorse’s developers are fed up with being barred from the upcoming lottery for 40 single-family lots in the new Ingram subdivision.
“It’s utterly ridiculous,” said Mike Racz, President of the Yukon Real Estate Association.
More than half the housing starts in Whitehorse this year were built by developers, said Racz. With their building crews shut out, he expects more young contractors will leave the territory to find work Outside, making it all the more difficult to find home builders.
“They’re the ones who provide the labour, the employment for the plumbers, the sheetmetal guys, the apprentice carpenters,” said Racz. “What’s going to happen to all their employees?
“Talk to somebody about how hard it is to hire a plumber or electrician, and how much that costs.”
In the past, the territory has held a second lottery for developers after residents have had first pick. This may still be the case with Ingram, said Mike Draper, acting director of the territory’s land management branch.
But with only 40 single-family lots, and an acute housing crunch, there may not be much left over after the October 4 lottery.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Draper. “We may have four turned back, 20 turned back, I don’t know.”
Developers are able to bid on multi-family lots for sale in Ingram, Draper noted. There are nine multi-family lots, four duplex lots and space for 72 townhouses.
But Racz worries that the decision to sell these lots by tender, rather than lottery, will only help drive up already-exorbitant housing prices.
“It’s just going to push land prices up more and more, which is going to take more and more people out of the market,” he said.
“All it does is drive up the price. Then the government says, ‘This is market value because the price has gone up so high.’”
Time will tell, said Draper. But he notes that bids are made in secret. “Whether they bid high, bid low, that’s their choice. But there isn’t going to be an auction.”
The NDP’s Steve Cardiff is familiar with the acuteness of Whitehorse’s housing shortage. He knows of one woman who earns just above minimum wage and pays $1,300 each month on rent, he told the legislature on Tuesday.
Cardiff also knows of a man who has a job, but has resorted to sleeping in a car because he can’t find an apartment.
Jim Kenyon, minister responsible for housing, responded to these remarks by noting that housing prices are up across the Canada. What this ignores, says Racz, is that property values in the Yukon have outstripped the rest of the country by a large margin.
And while Kenyon credits Yukon’s “very good and very hot economy” for the housing pinch, Racz sees the problem as the product of dithering and neglect on the part of the city and territory over the past decade. “They missed the boat,” he said.
Widespread consequences are being felt today. The resulting shortage hurts young families, who may not be able to afford to buy a first home in Whitehorse. It hurts low-income families who have trouble finding rental suites, with a vacancy rate close to zero.
It hurts employers, who have trouble luring workers to a city with few affordable places for newcomers to live.
And, contrary to public opinion, Racz insists it even hurts realtors like him. True, home values have skyrocketed. But he’d much rather trade lower prices for a higher volume of sales.
Fewer homes being built also hurts the city, for it means forgoing potential property taxes. “And you wonder why our taxes have gone up?” asks Racz.
And when he considers the spinoff sales that come from building a home -“legal fees, appliances, windows, landscaping, fences, driveways”- he figures that every 100 houses built in Whitehorse brings $50 million into the local economy.
The city’s constricted housing supply will begin to be addressed when the next big new neighbourhood, Whistle Bend, begins to open up in the autumn of 2012. In the meantime, “it’s not a good situation” for many people, said Racz. And the latest decisions by government, he said, are not helping.
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