Low cost micro apartments planned for Whitehorse

After its first attempt publicly imploded, the Yukon government has found new projects to fund with a smaller version of its affordable housing plan.

After its first attempt publicly imploded, the Yukon government has found new projects to fund with a smaller version of its affordable housing plan.

The Yukon Housing Corporation announced earlier this month that it was giving out a total of $950,000 to a pair of projects in Whitehorse and Dawson City.

In Whitehorse, 360° Design Build, owned by Antonio Zedda and Jack Kobayashi, received $500,000 towards a nearly $3-million building of “micro-apartments” on Hawkins Street in downtown Whitehorse.

The one-bedroom units are between 360 and 425 square feet. The four-storey building will have 14 units and 10 of them will be classified as “affordable,” meaning rent will have to stay at or below the median rent in the area for 10 years.

For a one-bedroom apartment in Whitehorse, that’s about $900.

The plan is essentially a pared-down version of the large, 27-unit building the company was preparing to build two years ago. In that case the Yukon government was willing to hand over a much larger chunk of change, $2.5 million, towards the project.

It was part of a government plan to subsidize developers up to 50 per cent of their development costs if they built rentals and agreed to keep them at or below 95 per cent of median rates.

Seventy-five units were scheduled to go up using federal Northern Housing Trust money.

All of the planned Whitehorse units were cancelled at the last minute after vocal complaints from real estate agents and landlords. They said that much government money was putting certain developers at an unfair advantage without any guarantees that the rentals would go to the people most in need.

Zedda said he’s “relatively confident” that the smaller plans, with smaller government contributions, won’t collapse this time, although the contracts haven’t been officially signed yet.

“I think the scale of the project is much more manageable and I think its impact on the market is minimal. We’re talking about a small building,” he said.

On top of that, the government has put protections in place to ensure that those in need get the rentals, he said.

Instead of offering to cover up to half of the development costs, the government is now paying $50,000 per “affordable” unit.

An income cap, which wasn’t in place before, means renters will have a household income that would have qualified for social housing.

In Dawson City the benchmark is $55,927 a year for one-bedroom units. In Whitehorse it’s $49,500.

Chris Milner, acting vice-president of operations for Yukon Housing, says prospective tenants will have to sign a legal declaration confirming that their income qualifies.

The government money is coming from a deal signed between the territory and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“To their credit they tried to revise what they had issued originally and make it more palatable to the market,” Zedda said.

“I think they’re motivated to provide more affordable housing.”

Zedda and other developers have long maintained that it is not possible to build rental apartments, keep the rates low, and still make money without some government help.

“I think part of the reason that there was less interest this time around is financially it’s just more difficult to make the project numbers work,” he said.

“But you know, we own our own property and we’re in the building business, so I think we have some advantages that maybe others just couldn’t benefit from.”

The plan is to start building the micro apartments in early spring next year.

For the last four years, the company has been allowing Blood Ties Four Directions to station its Steve Cardiff Tiny House on the empty lot.

Once construction on the new building starts the house will have to be moved.

It provides a transitional place for people in need to live while they are looking for a more permanent home. Four people have stayed there so far.

Blood Ties’ executive director Patricia Bacon says there’s no hard feelings about the move. The organization is grateful for the amount of time it had on the land, she said.

“We are now in a situation where we need to find a place to move the Steve Cardiff House to and maybe somebody reading this story might know somewhere where it can be picked up and moved to.”

The house needs to be able to be tied into sewer and water, Bacon said, ideally downtown or close to transportation.

Aside from the new rentals in Whitehorse, the Yukon Housing Corporation is also giving Chief Isaac Incorporated, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s business arm, $450,000 for a 14-unit development in Dawson. It will be located on the corner of Queen Street and Second Avenue, where the old Cassiar building currently stands.

Nine of the 14 one-bedroom units will be for affordable housing renters. The total project cost is estimated at $3.97 million.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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