Municipalities call on Yukon to spend housing cash

The Association of Yukon Communities wants the territorial government to do more to address affordable housing concerns.

The Association of Yukon Communities wants the territorial government to do more to address affordable housing concerns.

Representatives from Yukon’s municipalities endorsed two resolutions to that effect at the group’s fall meeting in Faro last weekend.

The first resolution describes the lack of housing as a “critical issue facing all communities” and urges the territorial and federal governments to commit the necessary resources for addressing those issues.

The second resolution is specific to Whitehorse. It encourages the territorial government to work with the city with the intention of resurrecting recently abandoned plans to spend the Northern Housing Trust fund.

In June, the Yukon government pulled the plug on plans for new affordable housing in Whitehorse.

The plan was to spend the remaining $13 million from the fund to cover up to half the building costs for developers who promised affordable housing.

After the plan was axed at the eleventh hour, Housing Minister Brad Cathers said he wasn’t in a position to announce how the money would now be spent. Cathers, who was also present at the AYC meeting, wouldn’t indicate then how his government plans to spend the money, either, of which there is an estimated $11.5 million remaining.

Whitehorse councillor John Streicker and Mayor Dan Curtis both sit on the association’s board.

They expressed disappointment with Cathers’ stance and said it’s a complete about-face from the territorial government’s previous way of doing business.

“This is a change from the agreement that we have in place about how we should work together,” Streicker said.

“What gets us the most is the way the AYC works with the Community Services department that includes an open and transparent relationship. We were told over the weekend that this money was going to be re-purposed and that cabinet had already made up its mind and wasn’t going to discuss it with us. We’re not pleased with that and that’s why we brought forward this resolution.”

The association was told the reason why funding was pulled for the city of Whitehorse was because the rental housing situation had changed, Streicker said.

“We don’t believe the situation has changed and we’re questioning some of the stats,” Streicker added.

In a letter to Curtis dated September 19, Cathers addressed the mayor’s concerns regarding the decision to cancel funding for housing projects in Whitehorse.

Cathers outlined a number of changes to the rental market since 2013.

Those include a rental vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent in March 2013 as opposed to a 3.1 per cent rate in December the same year.

That rate had risen to 7.1 per cent by April this year, he added in the letter.

“The majority of Whitehorse area landlords are ‘little landlords’ who own one or two rental units,” Cathers wrote.

“Many of these people rely on income from a rental unit to help pay the mortgage on their home. If government intervenes in the market in a new way, it is vital that we first have a clear understanding of the effect that action will have on individual homeowners and other middle-class Yukoners.

“Once it had been demonstrated that the market had shifted significantly, the government of Yukon made the decision not to approve any multi-million dollar grants for Whitehorse projects.”

He also said the remaining Northern Housing Trust funds would be used “for other initiatives,” but didn’t specify which.

Curtis, whose original letter was dated July 31, said he doesn’t buy the minister’s explanation.

“That’s not a true reflection, in our opinion, of affordable housing,” Curtis said.

“It’s disappointing – we asked to work with the government to reinstate that program and were told the decision was already made for that funding and we’re no longer privy to that information. The reality is we have the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce telling us it’s incredibly concerning to large retailers that are having a real struggle to find housing for a lot of workers who are coming to live here.”

While it’s not the city’s mandate to provide housing, it is its mandate to listen to citizens and try to work with them to lobby other governments, Curtis said.

“Unfortunately there’s no appetite at all to listen to the concerns and ‘we don’t think there is a concern’ is all we’re getting,” Curtis said.

Both Curtis and Streicker agree that rental rates are out of reach for many Yukoners.

They say they keep hearing from residents who aren’t able to make ends meet because of the housing situation.

“We have to have a bit of an option for people who are coming here or for those who have been here a little while,” Curtis said.

“It’s falling on deaf ears and that part, to me, is incredibly concerning.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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