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Housing corporation defends social housing plans

If only redesigning homes were as simple as pulling apart Lego blocks, Ron MacMillan's job would be much, much simpler.

If only redesigning homes were as simple as pulling apart Lego blocks, Ron MacMillan’s job would be much, much simpler.

MacMillan is president of the Yukon Housing Corporation, and one of the chief complaints the corporation received this week from auditor general Sheila Fraser is that the Yukon’s stock of social housing doesn’t meet today’s needs.

“Many living in social housing units have more bedrooms than they need. At the same time, there is a shortage of one-bedroom units in Whitehorse, and applicants in the victims-of-violence priority group have waited up to 15 months for housing,” Fraser wrote.

She called for the corporation to come up with a plan to rebalance its housing portfolio. Housing officials have agreed to all her recommendations.

But there’s no quick fix, MacMillan said in an interview yesterday.

Housing officials have long been aware of the imbalance between bachelor pads and multi-bedroom apartments. But it would be more costly to break up existing units than to build new ones, said Ron Brown, director of housing operations.

Most of the corporation’s housing stock was built in the 1970s. At that time, most tenants had families.

But demographics have since shifted, and tenants are now less likely to have children, but these housing units were built to last 50 years. And there simply hasn’t been much social housing built in recent years.

Several projects are planned over the next two years, but the last major addition occurred in 2006, when the seniors’ social housing units near Yukon College were built.

New projects should better match today’s needs. New social housing in Dawson City will largely consists of one- and two-bedroom units, to replace larger, three- or four-bedroom ones.

Other work will help take especially vulnerable groups, single women and the elderly, off the social housing waitlist. One project aimed at single-parent families is being built in Riverdale. Housing for the elderly is being built in Watson Lake, Teslin and Faro.

However, this work won’t help the majority of people on the social housing waitlist, who are single men in Whitehorse. A forthcoming project may help fix that.

The corporation plans to roll out in the next month or two a $2-million fund to encourage nonprofits to develop social housing, with an emphasis on building single-bedroom apartments in Whitehorse. (John Thompson)