New housing initiative will provide a roof to city’s most down and out

Kate Mechan and Laird Herbert want to give Whitehorse's most hard-to-house population a place to live.

Kate Mechan and Laird Herbert want to give Whitehorse’s most hard-to-house population a place to live.

A lack of affordable housing has left many in Whitehorse without shelter, particularly people with addictions and mental health issues, they say.

Some couch surf while others sleep for months at a time at the Salvation Army shelter or on the street.

Many have been kicked out of the few rental apartments that will take them.

After they’ve burned their bridges with landlords and non-profits they have no where left to go.

Mechan and Herbert want to offer them another option.

They plan to build a 20-room supported apartment complex in downtown Whitehorse.

The building will feature around-the-clock staff and access to counselling, addictions services and life skills.

And unlike the city’s detox centre, residents won’t have to be sober to enter the building.

“Tenants are allowed to do whatever they want in their rooms as long as it’s safe,” said Herbert.

“We’re not forcing them to do anything so they can live there.”

However, common areas in the building will be dry, meaning alcohol and drugs won’t be allowed.

Nothing like it exists in Whitehorse now, said Mechan.

Similar models exist all over North America, including Yellowknife, Vancouver and Toronto, she said.

The duo formed a working group last November to draw up a design for the building and look for funding sources.

Since then the Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition has found a location with the necessary zoning, secured in-kind support from eight different non-profits and drawn up a solid business plan.

They’ve already received $10,000 in seed funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Friday they meet with the Yukon Housing Corporation to discuss a $900,000 grant through Ottawa’s affordable housing initiative.

If that money is secured, it will pay for half of the building costs. The remainder will come from a bank mortgage that tenants will pay back through their monthly rent.

The coalition promises apartment rentals won’t exceed $501 each month, the maximum limit given to people on social assistance.

The group is still scoping out funds to pay the almost $250,000 needed each year to pay for onsite staff.

Monday, Mechan and Herbert appeared at city council to request a partnership with the city.

They’re hoping the city will knock off yearly taxes for the building and help raise support for the housing project.

The presentation was well received by councillors.

“(The housing crisis) has been an issue for years in Whitehorse,” said councillor Ranj Pillai.

“I give applause to these guys on this one. This is fantastic work.”

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