As it gets set to turn over ownership of its supportive housing building downtown to Yukon Housing, Options For Independence will not be required to pay back more than $65,000 in City of Whitehorse grants it was provided towards property taxes, decided city councillors on Jan. 11. (John Hopkins-HIll/Yukon News file)

As it gets set to turn over ownership of its supportive housing building downtown to Yukon Housing, Options For Independence will not be required to pay back more than $65,000 in City of Whitehorse grants it was provided towards property taxes, decided city councillors on Jan. 11. (John Hopkins-HIll/Yukon News file)

Exemption granted for building transfer

Options For Independence won’t be required to pay back city grants

Options For Independence will not be required to pay back more than $65,000 in City of Whitehorse grants it was provided towards property taxes.

Whitehorse city council quickly and unanimously approved OFI’s request for an exemption of the requirement at its Jan. 11 meeting.

Options For Independence sought the exemption as it gets set to turn over ownership of its supportive housing building on Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse to Yukon Housing.

OFI, which provides support for adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, opened its 14-unit housing project in 2014 with the city approving a development incentive that provided an annual grant for a portion of property taxes based on the improvements made to the property.

Under the terms of the agreement, the building was to remain under the ownership of the non-profit for at least 10 years or the organization would be required to pay back the annual grant amounts the city had provided towards property taxes.

As Pat Ross, the city’s manager of land and building services, said in an earlier report to council the grant amounted to about $9,300 each year for a total of $65,672.

With the building set to be turned over to Yukon Housing prior to the 10-year mark, OFI would have been required to pay back the grants doled out under the development incentive policy.

In a November letter to the city, OFI manager Sam Mutiwekuziwa highlighted the clause in the incentive policy that would be triggered when ownership is transferred.

He then requested the exemption, pointing out that OFI is a non-profit that is continuing to provide supportive housing as it will continue providing programming and supports for the building, keeping with what was outlined in the development agreement with the city.

The ownership is moving over to Yukon Housing due to the impact mortgage payments were having on OFI’s operations. After ongoing discussions with the Yukon government a decision was made for Yukon Housing to take over ownership of the building while OFI continues to operate it as supportive housing.

In his letter requesting the grant, Mutiwekuziwa said OFI has been able to provide services to more clients and the units have remained at full capacity with all clients stable in their placements and eight of those clients being employed.

“None has been negatively involved with the criminal justice system, but rather are contributing to the safety and well-being of city citizens in general,” he wrote. “Due to assistance with systems navigation from our staff, unnecessary use of the emergency medical services has been eliminated and our clients’ health and social outcomes have been positive. This is particularly important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He also said repaying the grants would make OFI’s “financially precarious position worse.”

In his earlier report to council, Ross pointed out the intent of the policy was to ensure grants provided for supportive housing benefit local groups providing the services.

“OFI has provided supportive housing for 14 adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder during the eight-year time frame since the development incentives agreement took effect,” Ross said.

It’s expected the building will be transferred to Yukon Housing before March 31 when the fiscal year ends.

In an emailed statement, Yukon Housing spokesperson Sarah Murray said with the exemption now in place, work to transfer the property will move forward.

“When finalized, this means that the (Yukon Housing) corporation will be responsible for ongoing care and maintenance of the building,” she said. “Through agreements with Yukon government, Options For Independence will continue to use the building to provide housing with support and programming for people with FASD, as they have successfully done since 2014.

“We are here to continue to work in partnership with Options For Independence and to find ways that Yukon Housing Corporation can support the Yukon FASD Action Plan, released in 2019.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Whitehorse city council

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