Elderly like the village, but won’t endorse it — at least not yet

They like it, but the Yukon Council on Aging isn’t endorsing the athletes’ village as senior housing yet, adding more unknowns to a…

They like it, but the Yukon Council on Aging isn’t endorsing the athletes’ village as senior housing yet, adding more unknowns to a growing list for the $34.4-million structures.

“We were very impressed with the facility; it was beautiful and I think it would be a wonderful facility if certain things were met,” said council president Bobbi Morgan after a tour of the 48-unit building, which is set to be taken over by Yukon Housing Corporation after the Games.

“We’re not going to jump in and endorse it,” said Morgan.

“All of the board members have not viewed the facility. That and the fact that the board members aren’t terribly happy how Falcon Ridge (a former Yukon Housing development in Whitehorse) was handled and how our endorsement was put on that.

“We felt we got a little stung there.”

The council is waiting to see Yukon Housing’s village proposal in writing before formally endorsing it, said Morgan.

So, while one of the two village buildings is to become Yukon College student residences after the Games, the fate of the second building is less clear.

Recently it was revealed the building may not have proper municipal zoning for residential uses and that the Yukon Housing Corporation will not make a decision on its final use until a January board meeting.

As a result, many worry the buildings will sit empty for several months after the Games end on March 10.

In an earlier interview, Yukon Housing officials confirmed the earliest tenants could move into the buildings is June, as extensive retrofits to the two- and three-bedroom units are needed.

But re-zoning will not add significant delays, said officials.

Still, in early December political pressure mounted to speed up the process.

Yukon Housing’s board recommended its officials investigate the feasibility of turning the building into seniors’ housing, and invited seniors’ groups to have a look.

Following her tour, Morgan identified a lack of public transportation and garbage disposal as the main roadblocks for the facility to be effectively recast for seniors.

“It would have to be for seniors with their own transportation; otherwise you’d end up with seniors in isolation, not being able to get to doctors’ appointments, recreation,” she said.

“If that’s what you like, and you have transportation, it would be a great facility. Personally I wouldn’t mind living there myself — you’re near the college, you can take courses, and there’s beautiful walking trails.”

A byproduct of the village’s location is that seniors with cars who move there could free up social housing in downtown Whitehorse for those who aren’t as independent and mobile, said Morgan.

Critics have mused that without new shops and services built at the college, the buildings would be like a trap for senior residents.

But like Morgan, Yukon Housing vice-president Louise Girard sees the situation in a far more positive light.

“We’re not forcing people to go live out there, and we’re not saying that we would close the existing buildings,” said Girard.

“It’s just an option for seniors. There are seniors that will prefer the downtown and don’t have transportation, but we have enough independent living seniors who could move out there.”

Preference for the village building — if it indeed becomes seniors’ housing — will be given to tenants already living in Yukon seniors’ housing, she said.

And interviews for potential tenants will focus on their transportation, as the facility is too far from services for walking, said Girard.

Tellingly, “We’ve already had people wanting to be on the list,” she said.

The corporation is now garnering opinions on the facility from tenants’ associations for seniors living at Closeleigh Manor and Greenwood Manor.

And meetings are planned with representatives of seniors at a downtown building that wasn’t originally built with the elderly in mind.

Following the upcoming decision, the housing corporation will speak with Yukon College about services near the buildings and to the city about improving transportation options, said Girard.

Feedback from the Yukon Council on Aging has been positive, but the meetings between the two groups are still preliminary and are not seen by Yukon Housing as endorsements, confirmed Girard.

As of October, Yukon Housing had 85 people on its waiting list for social housing, 25 of whom were seniors.