Government to take action on housing strategy

The Yukon government is moving ahead with a territorial housing strategy. The announcement was made by Scott Kent, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.

The Yukon government is moving ahead with a territorial housing strategy.

The announcement was made by Scott Kent, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, in his opening remarks at the Northern Housing Conference on Tuesday.

“I think one of the things that the chair of the conference planning committee mentioned in his cover letter is that the purpose for and real success of a conference is what happens afterwards,” said Kent in an interview. “I wanted to assure the conference attendees that this was just the start.”

The announcement was welcome news, said Charlotte Hrenchuk, a co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

The non-profit has been calling on the government to develop a housing strategy for years.

“I’m very, very happy, it’s fantastic news,” said Hrenchuk. “I’m really looking forward to participating in the process.”

The move also won some backhanded praise from the NDP, who have been pushing the government to create a housing strategy since the last election.

“I’m pleased that the Yukon government has finally acknowledged that it doesn’t have a housing plan, and that its scattered, ad hoc, one-off approach to housing has been a failure,” said NDP MLA Kate White. “It’s interesting because in the last year and a half I’ve constantly been calling for a comprehensive territorial housing strategy and it looks like the Yukon Party has finally listened to the NDP.”

Without clear timelines, though, White remains worried that the plan could just end up languishing.

“The Yukon Party has a habit of making announcements that don’t go anywhere,” she said. “This can’t be one of those things, so we’ll hold them to task to ensure that there is community involvement.

“We want everybody to be involved, and to make sure that it actually goes somewhere.”

But Hrenchuk is more optimistic about the prospects of the project moving forward, especially since it was announced at the conference.

“I think out of this group here there’s some fine minds and some fine ideas and all the speakers so far have been very inspirational, so I think it will keep the momentum rolling and create a really good plan,” she said.

While there hasn’t been a lot of progress on getting homes built for the Yukon’s most-vulnerable and marginalized people, the political winds have been changing on both the municipal and territorial levels, said Hrenchuk.

“The city has really made affordable, attainable housing a big priority for them, so I think that’s a real step in the right direction,” she said.

But on the federal level it’s a different story.

Earlier this month, Yukon MP Ryan Leef joined with his Conservative colleagues to vote down a private member’s bill that called for the creation of a national housing strategy.

“It was a disappointment for sure,” said Hrenchuk.

Getting the housing action plan up and running could take anywhere from a year to 18 months, said Pamela Hine, president of the Yukon Housing Corporation, which will be leading the initiative.

But that doesn’t mean that work on housing issues will stop, she said.

“We just can’t stop doing housing,” said Hine. “We’ll keep doing it, and as we evolve and the discussion evolves it will probably inform some of the new initiatives.”

“The first order of business will be to pull everyone together and start to move forward with the development of this plan,” said Kent.

“I think one of the important aspects of this is we’re going to look across the housing spectrum and identify opportunities and partnerships and where we can make investments that build on a lot of the work that we’ve already undertaken and completed,” he said.

Since the last election, the Yukon government has put through a number of housing initiatives, like new second-stage housing for women and children fleeing violence, the expansion of the facility for adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and new seniors’ housing.

But not all of its plans have born fruit.

Just this week Lot 262 on the corner of Range Rd. and Mountain View Dr. was sold off to the Whitehorse Baptist Church for a little more than $700,000.

The government originally planned on selling the 10-acre lot to a private developer on the condition that at least 30 affordable housing units be built on the land.

It abandoned those plans, however, after the only bids it received were disqualified.

Kent maintains that it was a worthwhile effort.

“That was an idea that we tried that was outside the box and we’re not afraid to try other initiatives where we think we can make a difference for Yukoners, no matter what their housing needs are,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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