‘This is an example of a slumlord that does not want to fix the rental property,” said Downtown Resident’s Association member Roxanne Livingstone on Monday.
She pointed her finger at a decrepit little white and green house in an area of downtown Whitehorse known as Old Town.
“Come on over here and see the door and how it’s rotten and won’t close,” she told assembled reporters, who gathered to hear the association’s take on rundown apartments.
“I’d like you to turn and take a look at that door and ask yourself, ‘Is this the First World we’re living in or the Third World?’”
The resident’s association and six other community groups met at the house Monday to publicly denounce landlords of deteriorating downtown housing.
They call the landlords “slumlords.”
And they’re hoping to shed light on an issue they say is growing increasingly worse.
Organizations representatives were especially worried about potential changes to the Yukon Energy Corporation’s rate-stabilization fund.
The fund was recently extended until June.
But if it is scrapped, as many expect, electricity rates to go up by as much as 33 per cent and have a major impact on the tenants of these old, electrically inefficient houses.
“It’s disappointing that the new residence up at the college, left over from the Canada Winter Games, isn’t being used for a variety of people,” said volunteer chair of the Anti-poverty Coalition Ross Findlater.
The village has been designated seniors housing despite efforts from the coalition to have it house single mothers and people suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
“There are a lot of single mothers and families out there who could use low-income housing,” said Findlater.
Whitehorse’s vacancy rate is two per cent.
That leads to a shortage of apartments and to low-income families forced to live in buildings owned by slumlords, said Renea Claude Carrier of Kaushee’s Place.
A call went out to landlords to be responsible and deal with mould, broken locks and single-pane windows.
But not everything followed the protest script.
Rudy Sudrich, an owner of a downtown apartment building, came right out and said, “I’m a slumlord.”
“I really sympathize with the bleeding hearts here, but I can’t get the $52,000 loan it would take to fix my place,” he said.
The people Sudrich rents apartments to aren’t always able to pay their rent on time, he said.
And there is a high crime rate in his building.
“My own wife is scared to stay at home if I’m not there,” he said.
His tenants are often on social assistance and won’t pay their last month’s rent, he said.
Because of the cash shortage, he is unable undertake much-needed renovations to his building, he said.
Livingstone did not have much sympathy for Sudrich.
“Look up and down, left and right, the downtown homes are not being kept up,” she said.
“I own several places and I hear other owners say, ‘Oh I can’t keep up with repairs, I can’t afford repairs.’ Well I do the repairs on my buildings and pay for it out of my own pocket,” said Livingstone.
The push from the organizations comes as city council is considering amendments to the downtown plan that could prevent more apartment buildings and other multifamily dwellings from being built in the Old Town area, south of Sixth Avenue.
Participants at a public hearing at city council on March 26 pointed out that a shortage of affordable housing downtown would mean the slum houses would continue to deteriorate and the area would stagnate.
“The demand for multifamily residences is prevalent downtown,” said mayor Bev Buckway who also attended Monday’s protest.
“New buildings that are four storeys high leave a smaller footprints as more people live in one area.
“Lots of people want a small apartment that is safe and affordable.”
Buckway doesn’t necessarily want to see territory-wide legislation to help landlords and tenants, she said.
Protesting can bring about change, she said.
“I already see some landlords doing repairs; there is certainly peer pressure out there.”
Buckway and other city officials attended the protest.
None would commit to taking the issues to the Association of Yukon Communities, which lobbies the Yukon government for changes to legislation.