Gimme shelter: A Yukon News special report on the territory’s housing crisis

Landlords, tenants, homeowners and buyers, executives, business leaders, politicians, addicts, single mothers, the working poor ... you name it, they're affected by the economic boom and housing bust.

Landlords, tenants, homeowners and buyers, executives, business leaders, politicians, addicts, single mothers, the working poor … you name it, they’re affected by the economic boom and housing bust.

The question is what allowed it to happen?

And how was the situation allowed to get so bad?

We all have our favourite culprits, but in this we should point fingers with caution. We all bear some blame.

A better question is where do we go from here?

This summer, as the vacancy rate dipped towards one per cent again, the Yukon News decided to examine the crisis, looking at its roots, victims and possible fixes to the long-term problems we’re facing.

Over the last eight weeks, or so, five reporters and two photographers nosed around to learn more about the economic forces, decisions, or, in some cases lack of them, that contributed to the housing shortage.

Using social networks and word of mouth, we’ve found an assortment of people struggling to stay warm and dry in the Yukon.

Many were worried about losing their jobs and, more telling, their accommodation if they publicized their stories. In some cases, we agreed to grant them anonymity. But their skittishness simply underscores how exposed and vulnerable renters feel in this town these days.

We found that solutions to the community’s predicament aren’t exactly easy, or quick.

This mess is going to take a while to sort itself out.

And there are dangers.

Bending city zoning rules to accommodate every bright-eyed developer swooping in with promises of low-cost seniors apartments and affordable housing could create more sprawl in places that really aren’t suitable in the long term. And it may not address the problem.

And the delay between authorization and construction means, without careful consideration, you risk building too much, or too little to meet future need. Especially if the economic bubble bursts, as it did in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But, with that in mind, there are things the territory and city could do address the housing problem quickly that wouldn’t necessarily be risky.

The Westmark Klondike Inn is for sale. Its 99 rooms would provide needed shelter to people who need it.

There are precedents for governments acquiring hotels for use as social housing, and the models for those programs are well established. It should be fairly easy to adapt one to the Yukon.

Similarly, there is a well-established need for supportive housing.

Currently, Social Services is often offloading the problem to the private sector or other government agencies. But that’s not fair, or cost effective in the long term. Officials should fund some sort of assisted-living complex for the mentally and physically disabled and addicts.

Again, these aren’t pie-in-the-sky schemes. They work.

We’ve looked to other cities and towns, like Vancouver and Airdrie, Alberta, to learn their innovative approaches to tackling housing issues.

And updating the Landlord and Tenant Act would also help bring some needed equality to the rental market.

Of course, there’s still more. Lots more.

Have a look at what we’ve uncovered so far – and if you’re one of those reading this in the comfort of your living room, count yourself lucky.

Because there are plenty of people in this city who don’t share your good fortune.

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