Riverdale residents grill affordable housing planners

Yukon Housing Corporation has selected a site in Riverdale for an affordable family housing project. Now the corporation must get to know the…

Yukon Housing Corporation has selected a site in Riverdale for an affordable family housing project.

Now the corporation must get to know the neighbours.

“I’m not opposed to more density in Riverdale so this is OK,” said Riverdale resident Laurie MacFeeters.

“I’ve always thought this area off of Nisutlin was the last potential growth part of Riverdale.

“I just don’t want my Millennium Trail to be affected.”

MacFeeters has also heard concerns from friends and neighbours about other areas in town that are not feeling safe — areas where there’s crime and vandalism.

The new family housing project wouldn’t necessarily lead to these problems, she said.

But it is something that people are concerned about and this needs to be taken into account.

“I’m supportive in principle,” she said.

“But the devil’s in the details, right?”

Many of the 25 other residents who filtered in and out of the two-hour information session on Wednesday evening expressed similar sentiments.

They agreed that the project was necessary — that there was a need for affordable family housing — but had some concerns.

Three separate tables were set up at the meeting with representatives from Yukon Housing, the city of Whitehorse and the Women’s Directorate.

The representatives at the Yukon Housing table received the brunt of the residents’ questions and criticism.

Some residents bemoaned the loss of the green space, comparing the area to Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

Others asked why the government couldn’t purchase, repair and use existing buildings throughout the city.

Many were simply angered that they had only learned of the project a few weeks ago.

“This has just been dropped on us,” said one man.

“It was just announced that this would be the site, rather than giving us some warning.”

“You say that you want to integrate with the community here; I’d say you’re starting off on the wrong foot,” added another resident.

The government doesn’t have four years to do extensive consultation on the project, said Yukon Housing operations vice president Dale Kozmen.

The federal government has provided $17.5 million for affordable housing through the Northern Housing Trust, and this must be spent in a timely manner.

The Riverdale project is expected to use up $10.5 million from that fund, and $960,000 has been set aside in this year’s budget for planning and design.

There are 70 families on Yukon Housing’s waiting list right now.

Most of those families are headed by single mothers.

“Single women with children make up 38 per cent of those waiting for affordable housing,” said Women’s Directorate director Jennifer England.

The new housing project will be geared for single families, regardless of whether that means a single mom or a single dad.

But single men with children make up a much smaller percentage of those looking for affordable housing.

The Yukon government announced the plan to build 30 units of affordable family housing in Riverdale a month ago.

Each unit will be approximately 93 square metres and the project is expected to use 3,716 square metres in total.

Other sites were considered in McIntyre, Takhini and in the downtown area.

But the site in Riverdale, on Nisutlin Drive next to the Council of Yukon First Nations building, was deemed the perfect match.

The site is within walking distance of a grocery store, bus stops, the downtown core, two elementary schools and FH Collins High School.

And because the site is vacant commissioner’s land, it won’t cost the government a dime.

The project is still in the design phase but could include amenities such as outdoor play equipment, library/study areas and a private daycare, much like the one run at Yukon College.

Planners would also like to make the development as energy efficient and green as possible.

Yukon Housing wants to include the Riverdale Community Association, as well as other stakeholders, in the design process this fall.

Planners hope to release construction tenders by spring 2009 and have families moved in by fall 2010.

 “What is proposed looks like a serious plan to build high-quality affordable housing in Riverdale,” said Riverdale Community Association president Doug MacLean.

“The meeting was an opportunity to raise questions, and a lot of questions were asked.”

The residents questioned whether the area’s public service zoning would allow for an affordable housing project.

They also questioned how this would affect and be affected by the community’s problem with wood smoke in the winter.

There were concerns raised over safety and social issues and residents would like the new development to recognize the existing values in the area, said MacLean.

“Hopefully answers to questions and solutions to the concerns raised can be further developed over the next few weeks.”

The Riverdale Community Association will hold a meeting in two weeks to discuss its position on the project.

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com