Takhini North isn’t enough: realtors

Whitehorse will add another 55 residential lots to its Takhini North subdivision by this autumn, the city announced Thursday.

Whitehorse will add another 55 residential lots to its Takhini North subdivision by this autumn, the city announced Thursday.

Realtors welcomed the news, but warned that Takhini North alone won’t fix the increasingly acute shortage of housing in the city.

To wit: the mid-priced single-family house has virtually disappeared from the market. As of this morning, there were only five houses listed for sale in Whitehorse between the $200,000 to $400,000 range on MLS.ca, a popular real-estate listing website.

Those looking for a new home can take a number. Realtors have long lists of prospective buyers to call when a house does go up for sale.

Realtors such as Terry Bergen have harped about the growing shortage of new lots for at least five years, to little effect. Now, he warns, the ravens have come home to roost.

He offers a number of grim predictions of what will occur over the next three years, until the city’s proposed Whistle Bend subdivision opens.

Prices for homes will keep rising, knocking more young potential homeowners out of the market.

The housing market will continue to stagnate. Already, homeowners have largely stopped trading-up for bigger houses because very few are on the market, said Bergen, a longtime realtor with Redwood Realty.

Taxes will grow, in part because the property-tax base hasn’t.

Prospective newcomers will consider job offers until they realize there’s no place to live and balk.

And as the next mining boom picks up, Outside workers may pass on buying a home here and instead opt to rent here and make more frequent commutes south.

Bergen also has a good idea of how these complaints will be received.

“We’ve been criticized for asking for more development. People say, ‘Greedy realtors. They make more money,’” said Bergen.

But he insists that isn’t true. Commissions may soar with housing prices, but the number of sales has fallen off. Realtors pine for the good old days when houses were cheaper, but more plentiful.

“We’re going as fast as we can,” given the number of constraints the city faces, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

Whitehorse may be one of the most sprawling cities in the country, with an area of more than 400 square kilometres to hold just 23,000 residents, but a map in Buckway’s office illustrates the challenge of plotting new neighbourhoods.

About one-third of the land within city limits is considered too mountainous to build on. Also take away First Nation land, greenspace and the oil-contaminated tank farm property and you’re left with few places suitable for development within city limits, she said.

But Whitehorse, which took development responsibilities from the territorial government in October of 2007, did plan to have more lots open by now than it does have.

The proposed Porter Creek D subdivision would have provided 400 units, enough to meet four years’ demand. Infill in Riverdale would have added another 20 units to further ease demand.

But both neighbourhoods were nixed by community groups, which booed the prospect of seeing greenspace disappear.

So the city developed a backup plan. It rolled out Stan McCowan, a 27-lot neighbourhood in Porter Creek, followed by Takhini North, which should offer a total of 72 lots by the end of year, and Ingram, sandwiched between Arkell and McIntyre, which will offer about 30 lots this year.

These small neighbourhoods are meant to sate homebuyers until the first two phases of Whistle Bend, with almost 300 high-density lots amounting to 918 housing units are ready in three years.

To criticism that the city isn’t moving fast enough, Buckway notes, “the city’s always criticized for not doing long-term planning – well, Whistle Bend is a long-term plan.”

But Buckway failed in her responsibility to sell neighbourhoods like Porter Creek D to the public, and now everyone is paying the price, said Mike Racz, president of the Yukon Real Estate Association.

This is no fault of the city’s planning department, which “works like a bugger,” said Racz.

“They get shot down at just about every meeting by a handful of people who sit there and complain about everything, in regards to trying to save a moose path or a beaver trail or whatever.

“Unfortunately, this is a city. They want it to be a city? Then let’s keep animals out of the city and let people live in the city. The animals can walk around the corner.

“We need lots. They need to develop them. They need to develop them faster,” he said.

The territorial government once had a policy of aiming to keep a 200-lot inventory on the market, but that goal has long since lapsed. Buckway concedes the city is “in catch-up mode” to hit that mark.

The number of lots developed in Whitehorse grew from 46 in 2000 to 93 in 2002 and continued to climb to a peak of 189 lots in 2005, said city planner Mike Gau. Following 2005, lot development declined almost as quickly as its ascent, falling to just 32 lots in 2009, most of which were country residential.

Counting the number of lots developed annually may be misleading, said Buckway, because this misses the growing proportion of high-density lots that are now being rolled-out.

The city is pushing greener, denser neighbourhoods that feature smaller lots and more duplexes and townhouses, rather than single-family lots.

Realtors are critical of this, too. The dearth of single-family houses for sale speaks to the demand for this type of housing, said Bergen.

“The part of the market that’s been missed for the past five years is single family. That’s the part of the market we don’t have houses for right now. That’s the working middle class. That’s the majority of our community. And they aren’t being provided for.

“We believe people want to live differently than what they’re planning for.”

But given the current housing pinch, Bergen suspects home-buyers will line up for what’s currently on offer.

A March 2 lottery will be held to sell three single-family lots and nine duplex lots.

Prices for single-family lots will range from $92,190 to $110,250. Duplex lots will range from $151,725 to $178,185.

Two multiple-housing lots and one mixed-use residential-commercial lot will become open to bidders in April. And an additional 30 single-family lots, 12 duplexes and one multiple-housing lot will become available in the autumn.

Contact John Thompson at