Ross River First Nation’s housing in ‘crisis,’ chief says

The chief of the Ross River Dena Council says his community is in the middle of a housing crisis.

The chief of the Ross River Dena Council says his community is in the middle of a housing crisis.

Jack Caesar has sent a letter to all three of the political parties looking to form the next territorial government.

He sent another to the Government of Canada.

“Our housing is hurting our people who are living in them,” the letter said. “Our RRDC community housing is in an emergency crisis situation.”

Out of the First Nation’s 130 homes, 27 are still occupied even though they have enough mould and other contaminants affecting people’s health that they need to be demolished. Another 16 are so bad they’ve been abandoned.

According to the letter, 18 to 20 homes have mould and other contaminants but could be repaired.

“This means just under half of RRDC community homes are confirmed to have toxicity too high to be safe for occupants or are so bad they are abandoned,” the letter says.

About another 20 to 40 homes were tested in 2014/15 and found to have “marginal” levels of toxicity.

“These homes have not received maintenance and are expected to have degraded further, most likely becoming toxic to the RRDC families living in them … in particular with regards to mould and sewage,” the letter says.

“The remainder of our homes have had little maintenance because of budget limitations and are also in a significantly deteriorating condition.”

Budget constraints mean the First Nation can only afford to make repairs in emergencies and even then the repairs are Band-Aids, “rarely ever a proper fix,” the chief said.

The Ross River Dena Council homes sit on melting and heaving permafrost. Almost all of the homes require annual re-levelling because of that.

Each year four out of 10 homes move so much that they are disconnected from the septic field or septic tank, the chief said.

“This causes a sewage glacier to be formed underneath the house or trailer throughout the winter, resulting in contamination, mould and significant cost for emergency repairs, etc.”

The First Nation is asking for help.

The chief says the community needs emergency, temporary housing for 48 to 60 families before winter, if possible.

About 20 to 40 homes need to be demolished and the First Nation can’t afford it.

The First Nation needs $500,000 a year for the next three to five years to cover repairs on 10 homes a year.

The Ross River Dena Council is one of only three unsettled First Nations in Yukon, meaning it remains a band under the federal Indian Act.

Caesar said the federal government has agreed to fund the demolition of 10 homes, the construction of three three-bedroom duplexes and $250,000 to go towards 10 home repairs.

But the chief says that’s not enough.

“Unfortunately these funds do not even come close to addressing the extent of the emergency in our community,” the letter says.

“In particular the renovation dollars do not come close to making those 10 homes safe for occupants.”

In a statement, Stacey Hassard, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, said he “will be relentless in having this issue addressed by the federal government. Where Yukon government can step in, I will fight for that intervention, as I have since becoming MLA.”

He said Yukon Housing officials will work with the community “until the feds live up to their obligations.”

The government is currently working on a new staff residence in Ross River for Yukon government employees.

“I also committed that as soon as our new six-plex is completed, YHC would hand over four or five units for RRDC to house their citizens. We will upgrade and improve any units before handing them over,” Hassard said.

The opposition parties have always promised to help if there is a change in the territorial government.

“This housing crisis is a culmination of 14 years of neglect by back-to-back conservative Yukon Party governments and we are sad to hear that this has not been addressed. Housing is a human right, and this is unacceptable,” NDP Leader Liz Hanson said in a statement.

Hanson said an NDP government would work with Ross River and the federal government to address immediate housing needs.

“All Yukon government agencies, including Yukon Housing, will be brought to the table.”

The Liberals have also promised to make Ross River housing a priority.

“Temporary, emergency action is needed to get through this winter; however, this situation is critical — Band-Aids will only work in the very short term,” said Carl Sidney, the party’s candidate in Pelly-Nisutlin.

“We will work with the RRDC and its citizens to identify permanent solutions and associated funding so that major repairs and new construction can begin next spring.”

Caesar ends his letter with another direct plea.

“Each year our community goes further and further into a hole we are unable to climb out of. RRDC needs immediate and sustained help from the Yukon and Canadian governments to address the current emergency housing crisis affecting the health of many of our people,” it says.

“Families, children and elders live in homes that are toxic to their health and we have no other place for them to live. The health problems resulting from these toxic homes will be a significant cost in the long term. Many of our citizens struggle with addictions.

“There is no path to healing if you do not have a safe home.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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