Housing squeeze hurts businesses

After selling her house at the beginning of March, Joleen Fehr had no idea how difficult it would be to find an apartment to rent in Whitehorse. She gave herself until April 30th to find a place. If she couldn’t find one, the three-year-resident of the Yukon was going to leave.

After selling her house at the beginning of March, Joleen Fehr had no idea how difficult it would be to find an apartment to rent in Whitehorse.

She gave herself until April 30th to find a place. If she couldn’t find one, the three-year-resident of the Yukon was going to leave.

“I had my name on the list of every single apartment building in town,” she said.

“I got one call-back and that’s only because the landlord recognized (my partner’s) voice.”

When Fehr moved to Whitehorse from Prince George in 2007 she was able to find a place before she even arrived. And that was with her two cats in tow.

This time around, Fehr had to give away her cat of seven years before she could even be considered.

A customer at the Java Connection, where she has worked since moving to Whitehorse, saw how desperate Fehr was and managed to locate a basement suite for her at a friend’s place.

“There’s no living room and the place is tiny,” she said. But Fehr is happy she won’t have to leave the territory.

“Before I found the place I was telling myself I was either going to have to throw my cats off a bridge or go back to Fort St. John.”

Fehr’s story isn’t unusual.

When Miki Hanatani moved to Whitehorse from Banff this winter it took her and her family two months to find a place to live. It was faster for her to find work than to find housing.

While searching for a house to rent, Hanatani and her family lived at a bed-and-breakfast.

“Everything out there was too pricy or too small,” said Hanatani, who works at the Miles Canyon Historic Railroad Society.

Many of the ads in the newspaper were already taken by the time she phoned. And when she did manage to get a landlord on the line, more than once she was refused the place because she had a 15-month-old baby.

Finally, Hanatani and her family settled on a one-bedroom duplex in a neighbourhood they didn’t want to live in.

“We’re still looking for a new place,” she said.

But the problem of housing isn’t only affecting employees, it’s also hitting businesses hard, said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp.

One of the key issues to arise at an economic summit last month was housing, said Karp.

“Amongst employers in retail, service and information technology, the number one issue that went across all sectors was the need for more housing,” he said.

“We must provide affordable housing to people – not just low-income housing – but reasonable accommodations.”

The housing shortage has been a problem in Whitehorse for the past three years, said Karp. “Three years ago we literally ran out of land.”

The lack of housing means people like John Robertson, general manager of the High Country Inn and the Gold Rush Inn, are having a hard time staffing their businesses.

“We’ve got staff now that are desperate to find a home,” he said.

“There’s staff looking to crap out (of their job) because they can’t find anything.”

Between the two hotels, Robertson counts 12 staff members who are looking for a place to settle down. Most of those people have just moved up to the Yukon, he said.

Staff can live temporarily at the hotel for a couple weeks at a time. But during the peak season the hotels don’t have any extra rooms to spare for staff.

Housing was a prominent issue at a Tourism Industry Association conference this week.

“The number one issue is finding staff and the number two issue is finding accommodations for them to live in,” said Robertson.

“It’s a huge, huge issue right now.”

Infill development is the fastest way to make new rental properties available, said Karp.

Housing on the lower Porter Creek Bench won’t be available for another couple years, so providing infill housing, particularly downtown, is essential, he said.

“The city needs to create incentives for developers to put up more (apartment buildings and condominiums) so the rental market can be facilitated.”

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition in conjunction with the Yukon Bureau of Statistics is circulating a housing survey to determine the adequacy of current housing available in Whitehorse.

That survey can be accessed at Yukon Learn during office hours until May 14.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

A new leash on life: Injured Whitehorse pup settles into new home

‘I think now he’s less of a perfect dog but he’s more himself’

Yukon well represented in Olympic ski relays

‘It’s always rewarding when you’re racing for a team’

Yukon government launches new website and logo

Opposition slams $500K project cost as a waste

Former Whitehorse gas station employee sues over alleged sexual harassment, assault

Susan Lynn Keleher alleges there was a ‘campaign’ of sexual harassment and assault against her

Tagish dog rescue owner says she’s euthanized 10 dogs

Shelley Cuthbert said she put down 10 dogs after surrendering them to the animal health unit Feb. 15

No Resource Gateway construction work this season, YG says

‘We’re not as advanced as we would have liked to have been but we still are advancing’

Former Whitehorse RCMP officer gets conditional discharge for sexual assault

Judge Richard Scheider sided with the defence’s argument that conditional discharge was appropriate

Tagish dog rescue owner asks court to change dog surrender order

Shelley Cuthbert is asking for changes to an order requiring her to surrender 10 dogs per month

Dangerous offender hearing underway for former Yukon man who sexually abused 13 girls

The man pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 13 girls over seven years in the Yukon, B.C. and Ontario

Team Yukon has strong showing at Whistler Super Youth and Timber Tour

‘Anwyn absolutely destroyed the competition’

Yukon skier turns in personal best at Junior World Championships

‘It was another great international racing experience’

Most Canadians believe journalism plays critical role in democracy: poll

Survey suggests 94 per cent of Canadians feel journalism plays ‘important’ part

Yukon child care deal to fund grandparents, courses for caregivers

‘How this is completely going to look, we’re still working on’

Most Read