Housing crisis may prompt another tent city

In the last 12 months, Nancy Tanner has helped more than 100 people find housing in Whitehorse. But it's not her job. "I see it as my unofficial duty," said the manager of the Beez Kneez Bakpackers hostel in downtown Whitehorse.

In the last 12 months, Nancy Tanner has helped more than 100 people find housing in Whitehorse.

But it’s not her job.

“I see it as my unofficial duty,” said the manager of the Beez Kneez Bakpackers hostel in downtown Whitehorse.

Tanner has been managing the hostel for four years and in that time she’s seen the housing situation go from “bad to worse to horrible.”

On Tuesday three of Tanner’s guests were sitting in the common room trolling the Internet.

All of them were looking for places to live.

James had moved to Whitehorse from Vancouver after landing a job with the Yukon government.

“There was a buzz about Whitehorse and I was looking for a different lifestyle,” he said.

But so far, he hasn’t been able to find a place to live.

In Vancouver it’s a tenant’s market, he said. “But up here any housing ads are gone in five seconds.

“I don’t know anybody yet, but you seem to need to know someone to get a place.”

Robert Becher is having the same problem.

The pilot moved north for work and wasn’t too worried about finding a place.

“Before moving up, I was looking online at Kijiji and there were lots of ads for places,” said Becher.

“But once I got up here they were all rented out.”

If it comes down to it, he said he’s “always got a truck and can sleep in that.”

When Tanner started at Beez Kneez, she’d help guests comb the local newspapers for rental options.

“But people stopped putting ads in the paper about a year and a half ago,” she said. “Because they were getting 50 people calling and applying for one room or one basement apartment.”

Instead, people just started calling Tanner if they had a room to rent.

“They knew I always had people,” she said.

But now even these calls have stopped.

“It’s just tapped out,” she said.

There are Yukon businesses that can’t recruit employees because there is no housing, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“And 2012 is going to be a significantly difficult year,” he said.

Karp wants to see more development in Whitehorse.

“If you look at a map of Whitehorse, 65 per cent of it is green space,” said Karp. “The average across the country is eight per cent.

“Ironically, we seem to be having difficulties finding land to develop.”

Whistle Bend is a start, said Karp.

But it’s not enough.

“We can’t move quickly enough on places like Long Lake,” he said.

People are afraid large developments will deflate the housing market, said Karp. “But that’s not going to happen.”

A recent mining sector report predicts the industry will spend more than $5 billion in capital expenditures in the territory by 2018.

“There are going to be thousands of jobs,” he said. But there’s no housing.

Last week, Yukon Housing’s budget dropped by $9 million.

And this week, the Yukon government said it’s planning to tweak its Financial Administration Act, giving it greater control over public property. It’s a move in preparation for another tent city this summer.

Tent city residents were evicted in November by White Pass and Yukon Route, which owns some of the property next to the territorial government building where the tent city was set up.

At the time, there was talk of putting some of the homeless in the Alexander Street Residence, since the seniors living there had moved to a new building at Waterfront Place.

Last summer, the government announced the Alexander Street Residence would be used to house 15 to 20 Yukoners with cognitive disabilities, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

In July, Social Services spokesperson Pat Living said new residents will move in within “weeks, not months.”

Nine months later, the residence remains empty.

Tanner would like to see Whitehorse create a housing co-ordinator position, like ones in Yellowknife, N.W.T. and Juneau, Alaska.

As affordable housing co-ordinator in Juneau, Scott Ciambor provides guidance to the city on housing issues.

So far, this has involved working on everything from homelessness and mental health issues to land allocation and rent-to-own properties.

Ciambor also co-ordinates meetings between upwards of 30 local organizations involved in Juneau’s homelessness and housing initiative, including police, hospital staff, city officials, state employees, realtors, developers, doctors, school board members, mental-health workers, lawyers, church groups and local non-profits.

The City of Yellowknife has a full-time homelessness co-ordinator.

Over the past seven years, Dayle Hernblad has overseen the construction of a youth shelter, a 32-unit transition home for men, a day shelter and the continued maintenance of a 44-bed shelter, while a new 22-unit supported-living complex for women is in the works.

This gives Yellowknife – population 18,700 – more than 90 shelter beds.

Whitehorse – population 26,400 – has 14.

“Last year we had almost 4,000 people come through the Beez Kneez,” said Tanner.

One young man had moved north for work and was washing dishes at a local hotel, but couldn’t find a place to live, she said.

“He was working five hours a day, at $10 an hour. But it cost $30 a night here so he was spending three-fifths of his salary on accommodation.

“Is that what we consider affordable?”

Tanner ended up driving the young man to the Alaska Highway after a few weeks.

“He started hitching back south,” she said.

“If Whitehorse is going to grow and start bringing in workers, then it’s got to find more housing, or we’re going to miss out on individuals who are making contributions to our community and our economy.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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