Housing issues studied

Kate SingingStone has had her fill of run down, unsafe rental units. SingingStone just moved out of an illegal basement suite with black mould that she lived in for more than a year.

Kate SingingStone has had her fill of run down, unsafe rental units.

SingingStone just moved out of an illegal basement suite with black mould that she lived in for more than a year.

“After being in the house for a couple of hours I would start getting stuffed up,” she said.

“When I finally moved out I realized how much better I could breathe.”

Privacy was another issue.

“Whenever the landlord decided to go on a 3 a.m. bender there she was at my door,” said the 53-year-old who lived just beneath her landlord.

“She figured it was her place and that she could come in whenever she wanted.”

SingingStone is one of many in Whitehorse who can’t afford decent housing.

Last week the Yukon Bureau of Statistics and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition wrapped up a month-long survey of Yukoners living in inadequate housing. Two thousand questionnaires were circulated.

When SingingStone noticed the questionnaires being handed out at the Victoria Faulkner Centre a few weeks ago, she took the opportunity to warn the women sitting near her to be vigilant against slum landlords.

“The city is full of them,” said SingingStone who has lived in the territory for 13 years.

One landlord wanted to use her damage deposit to clean up after the previous tenants.

Other landlords don’t even bother to clean up at all.

When SingingStone moved into the Riverdale Skyline apartments, there were holes in her walls, feces rubbed into the carpet and the toilet tank was falling off of her toilet.

“I was paying $1,400 (for first and last month’s rent) to move into a slum and I still had to clean up after the last tenants,” she said.

But the problems didn’t end there.

The first week of living at the Skyline she got her car broken into. The second week, her apartment was robbed. SingingStone figures people had been watching her apartment to know when her dogs weren’t there before breaking in, she said.

After the robbery she complained to her landlord that she needed a new lock.

“The landlord didn’t do anything, he didn’t care,” she said. “He said to me, ‘Call the locksmith.’

“Landlords want a paycheque, but they don’t want responsibilities.”

SingingStone is on social assistance and often has landlords telling her to take money from her monthly food allowance to pay for her rent. And for two years she did just that.

The $501 she receives for housing isn’t enough to find a decent place to live, she said.

She figures that if she’s paying that much for rent she may as well live down south where the rent costs the same, but there are more and better housing opportunities.

This month she moved into a cabin out of town that she likes. When the winter comes, however, she’ll have to move because it will be too expensive to heat the place, she said.

SingingStone recently applied for low-income housing, but if she can’t get anything before September she’s considering moving to Montreal or Nova Scotia.

“I think it’s a shame, but I can’t see at my age, 53, wanting to spend 10 more years here struggling to find adequate housing,” she said.

“At midlife if I don’t have (adequate housing) then what happens when I’m a senior?”

Housing for older people is an issue, she said.

“If you’re turning 60 and you have no place to live and you have the opportunity to stay in Aunt Martha’s bedroom even though she beats the cat … well, you do what you have to do,” said SingingStone.

She hopes that the government’s recent social inclusion strategy will result in something, but she’s skeptical.

“At the (poverty and social inclusion conference in March) there was a lot of lip service paid,” she said.

“I’d like to see some of what was said in writing.”

The housing questionnaire is meant to guide the government on what actions to take, said social inclusion and poverty reduction executive director Mike McCann.

“It will be really helpful to get a sense of the magnitude of the housing problem.”

It’s the first housing survey ever done by the Yukon government, said Debbie Thomas of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

Thomas was one of five coalition members who assisted people in filling out the six-page questionnaire.

“The biggest single issue that came up was a need for low-income housing,” said Thomas.

“A lot people weren’t happy with their housing – they felt they had no choice and nowhere else to live.”

This won’t be news to the government, but it will give them “irrefutable data” that a problem exists, she said.

Meanwhile SingingStone believes if the government is going to create more social housing it needs to create a model that people can actually invest in.

“People get handed stuff and they destroy it because they know they will get handed it again,” she said.

“If part of their money goes into the property, then they’ll have more respect for it. The idea is that one day they know they could own it.”

The Yukon bureau of statistics will compile and analyze the housing data over the summer and expects to have a report completed by September.

Contact Vivian Belik at