First Nations control lots in Whitehorse

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is getting into the land development business. This week, the First Nation government announced its plans after meeting with its citizens. Its impact on local housing could be significant.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is getting into the land development business.

This week, the First Nation government announced its plans after meeting with its citizens.

Its impact on local housing could be significant.

Together, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation own 10.4 per cent of the city’s developable land.

And that’s a big chunk of what’s left in the city, said Whitehorse planning and development manager Mike Gau.

Aboriginal governments are well aware of their position as land developers.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation is moving quickly to address the housing shortage, wrote Chief Rick O’Brien in an emailed response to questions.

The First Nation will focus on affordable housing, he said.

“Over the past few years Whitehorse has not been addressing the housing needs for entry-level or mid-level homeowners,” wrote O’Brien. “Essentially, only senior executives or senior government people are most likely the only ones able to afford these high-priced homes.”

First Nations are perfect candidates to develop affordable housing because they have “a different business model when it comes to residential real estate,” he said.

“For us, income tax revenue is where we generate our income from our lands. We also have a nominal lease fee for the land, so, conceptually, we are able to significantly reduce the cost of a house compared to the city.”

The initial $100,000 fee for the cost of the land would be removed from the aboriginal model, wrote O’Brien.

But the First Nation cannot proceed until it completes its lands act.

Like any government, a First Nation cannot develop the land they own without legislation.

“They’re just setting out the rules on how land will be used,” said Michael Hale, the territory’s director of implementation at the land claims secretariat. “Who can use the land for what purpose.”

Kwanlin Dun First Nation completed the first reading of its act, and has sent it for obligatory consultation with the city and territory. It plans to move it to second and third reading by the end of the summer, wrote O’Brien.

Only four Yukon First Nations have implemented a lands act: the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Champagne and Aishihik and Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations and the Teslin Tlingit Council, said Hale.

Once the paperwork is complete, Kwanlin Dun will gradually release lots over the next months and years, wrote O’Brien.

“It does cost a lot of money to put in the underground infrastructure, so we are currently focused on lots that we can financially afford to develop today.”

Kwanlin Dun owns residential land in Mary Lake, Porter Creek, Copper Ridge, Range Road and McIntyre, and, depending on design ideas, some of these areas have the potential for more than 400 lots, wrote O’Brien.

However, homeowners cannot buy their lots from the First Nation. The land will be leased.

“The purpose of land claims was to give First Nations their lands back to create wealth for First Nations and their citizens,” wrote O’Brien. “We have over 24 square kilometres of land in Whitehorse city limits that we are working to lease.”

Land leasing is done throughout the world and is almost always long-term, meaning it is recognized as “safe” by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, with the homeowner having 100 per cent confidence their investment is protected, wrote O’Brien.

“The timing is perfect now because the supply is so low and the demand is so high that people are going to be receptive to creative solutions,” said town councillor Ranj Pillai. “And for the majority of the population, leasing is foreign. Although it’s something that’s prevalent in many parts of Canada, as well as the world, there’s an education piece here and this is the time to start to educate people and start to have people get comfortable with the concept.”

Solving Whitehorse’s housing shortage is going to be a lot tougher if the First Nations don’t come to the table with housing ideas, said Pillai.

But, those decisions may take longer, he added.

“They have settled agreements,” said Pillai. “The decisions they make are going to affect them for the duration of time. Both Kwanlin Dun and TKC are moving in a process where they’re trying to reduce risk as much as possible, but, at the same time, make the best decisions for the citizens now and for generations to come.”

However, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council is not as far along as Kwanlin Dun.

While a lands act has been drafted, it has failed to come to a vote within the First Nation, which spans from Marsh Lake to Hootalinqua.

The hope was to pass the legislation during this year’s general assembly held June 11 to 13.

That didn’t happen.

“We can’t do anything without that act,” said Ta’an’s housing manager Scott Dickson.

And that includes any more work on the First Nation’s C-23 lots along the Klondike Highway near the Takhini River Bridge.

That land has already been zoned and subdivided.

Along with joining the Whitehorse housing market, Kwanlin Dun also wants to help their citizens move from being renters to homeowners.

Credit can be a problem for many aboriginal people.

For most residents living in the First Nations’ McIntyre subdivision, renting is the only option because, while they may hold jobs, most still use cash.

“They don’t use credit cards or have not purchased new cars from the dealerships on credit,” wrote O’Brien. “This means they may not qualify for regular bank loans because they don’t have credit history.

“Fortunately, there are several programs to address these financing issues for First Nations.”

But there won’t be any favouritism for Kwanlin Dun citizens when First Nations’ land does come up for lease.

Their citizens will have to apply for it like everyone else, said O’Brien.

The development of First Nation land may produce more affordable housing, easing the current shortage.

But the First Nation is not in the business of building public, subsidized units, wrote O’Brien.

“We don’t want to develop segregated neighbourhoods or social housing,” he wrote. “We want our lands to be developed into healthy balanced communities that will increase in value, over time, for the homeowners.”

“It’s in the best interest of everybody to make sure that both of the First Nations that are within city limits are vibrant, healthy, well-sustained communities,” said Pillai. “We’re in a very unique situation, where you have two self-governing First Nations within a municipality with very significant landholdings.

“So this is groundbreaking, but it’s also a phenomenal opportunity.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at