Housing crisis

There is a housing crisis in Whitehorse, and as summer tourist season ramps up it's going to get worse, says the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

There is a housing crisis in Whitehorse, and as summer tourist season ramps up it’s going to get worse, says the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

“We have this seasonal thing of people being evicted from their hotel rooms in advance of the tourist onslaught so that higher rents can be charged,” said Ross Findlater, a coalition co-chair.

“We’re really calling on all levels of government and any concerned citizens to step up to the plate.”

So the coalition is considering housing people in churches, schools, old nursing residences and renovating Yukon Housing Corp. stock in the south end of downtown.

This week, at a meeting held in the parking lot of the Salvation Army parking lot, people even considered erecting a tent city.

“People are tired of sleeping on chairs and under tables,” said Kate Mechan, the housing navigator with Blood Ties Four Directions. “Right now we’re exploring the possibility of a tent city.”

It’s not meant to be an act of resistance, she said, and there would be some practical benefits to something like that.

“From the standpoint of an outreach worker we would be able to provide support in one spot,” said Mechan. “It would also demonstrate to the city how great the need truly is.”

The city wouldn’t put the kibosh on a tent city, but it must conform to current bylaws, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“It’s a tough situation,” she said.

And it’s not just those on the economic margins who are hurt by the housing shortage, business is also affected.

“The housing situation is a crisis,” said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

With a vacancy rate of just one per cent, and the average price of a house at around $400,000, Whitehorse is a tough sell for employers.

“We can’t attract people to Whitehorse if there’s no place to live,” he said. “We are losing a lot of potential employees at all levels of skill.”

In addition, the acute lack of small apartments and starter homes is stifling people economically, said Karp.

“We need to increase the potential for upward mobility,” he said. “We’ve lost that capacity.”

The Chamber wants to see the government take action on revamping the Landlord Tenant Act, something that has been put off for years.

Updating that legislation would benefit owners and renters by setting firm standards, said Karp.

“It’s a desperate situation we have right now,” he said,” People are living in circumstances that aren’t the best.”

Given the depth of the crisis, it was disheartening to learn the government has been sitting on $17.5 million in affordable housing money for years, said Findlater.

“It’s quite concerning,” he said. “It just added to the sense of frustration people were experiencing.”

“That pile of money shows a complete disregard,” said Mechan. “People are feeling hopeless and let down by the government.

“There really isn’t any excuse of not acting.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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