Few lots, not enough developers

The city is falling short in its ability to offer up land to the public, says councillor Ranj Pillai. In 2006, the city signed an accord with the Yukon government to maintain a two-year inventory of housing lots.

The city is falling short in its ability to offer up land to the public, says councillor Ranj Pillai.

In 2006, the city signed an accord with the Yukon government to maintain a two-year inventory of housing lots.

The agreement set out to make land development “timely, efficient and economic,” so there would be a healthy supply of lots in Whitehorse.

But since then, the opposite has happened – prices have gone up and lot supplies have dwindled.

In just four years, lot prices have jumped to $120,000 from $70,000.

Meanwhile, vacancy rates plummeted.

The percentage of available rental suites was 0.6 per cent in June, almost two percentage points lower than what it was a year earlier and the lowest it has been since 1988.

Pillai would like to see private developers squeeze into the government-controlled market to help ease the land crunch.

He urged councillors to take up the discussion with the Yukon government as they prepared to vote on a revised lands policy Monday night.

“Over the last seven days I’ve been reaching out to private businesses to ask them what they think,” he said.

“At least four companies – two private and two First Nation companies – have said they have an interest in developing land.”

He doesn’t see why there can’t be a number of people developing land in Whitehorse.

Doing so would bring in competition and boost local businesses, he said.

The 2006 land accord actually allows for private developers to buy up raw land from the Yukon government, however, that option has rarely been tapped.

“A number of years ago, the Yukon government explored that idea with a portion of land in Copper Ridge,” said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

“But there were no interested parties who thought they could make money.”

The sense was there was never enough capacity in the private sector to make it happen.

After the land-development agreement was signed in 2006, the city was given direct control in developing its land.

It became the city’s responsibility to identify development areas to maintain a two-year lot supply.

The city was also tasked with organizing all planning, engineering and technical studies as well as public consultations and sales.

The territorial government merely brokered the deals and did the physical development of subdivisions.

Since then, several factors have derailed the system, said Pillai.

They include decisions on where to develop land, and barriers erected by people in government, he said.

“In later years, there were MLAs that spoke on behalf of slowing down certain developments the city had,” he said. “There was interference.”

By opening the door to private businesses, the costs and time associated with bringing lots online can be reduced, said Pillai.

However, he doesn’t want the city to step out of the land-development business altogether.

“They still play an important role,” he said.

Allowing private developers into the mix is something the city hasn’t ruled out, said Shewfelt.

The city is open to having that conversation with the Yukon government, he said.

In the meantime, the city has revised its land-disposition policy to restrict who can buy up city lots and how often.

The policy was passed unanimously by council on Monday.

Now, only residents who have lived in the Yukon for six months and haven’t purchased a lot in the last two years can buy up a piece of land.

The idea is to curb the sale of lots to people who want to speculate the land and flip it for a higher price. That way lots aren’t standing idle during a lot shortage.

But it will also have the side effect of strangling sales to private contractors who take developed land and build houses on them for a living.

The city is also reserving the right to choose who will win a land bid when bids come within five per cent of one another.

The city is saying it will discuss the option of opening up its land to other developers, but for now it still has a tight grip.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com