Territorial officials in Ross River to talk housing

Territorial housing and health inspectors are expected to finish their assessment of homes in Ross River by the end of today.

Territorial housing and health inspectors are expected to finish their assessment of homes in Ross River by the end of today.

Last year Chief Jack Caesar said his community was in “crisis,” living in unhealthy houses that were making people sick.

Many homes have become toxic because of mould and sewage issues, the chief said.

Housing Minister Pauline Frost and Community Services Minister John Streicker were in Ross River Wednesday to meet with the community and the Ross River Dena Council.

During last fall’s election campaign the Liberals promised to make housing in Ross River a priority, but it’s not clear yet whether that will mean offering any territorial money.

The Ross River Dena Council is one of three unsettled First Nations in Yukon, meaning money for housing comes from the federal government.

Helping Ross River might include territorial cash, Frost told the News Jan. 6. But it could also mean providing other types of support.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to put a lot of money on the table, it means that we’re going to work with the community,” she said.

The territorial government is looking into the possibility of shipping up social housing units, potentially from Faro, so families would have a place to stay while their homes are being repaired, Frost said.

More territorial officials could also be made available to help the First Nation come up with a solution.

It will depend on what the assessment report says, Frost said. The report is expected to be completed next week.

The minister said everything is being done in collaboration with the Ross River Dena Council.

“Nothing we do is without consent by the government there.”

A representative from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada was also at Wednesday’s meetings.

In the 2016-2017 federal budget the First Nation got $2.2 million for housing on top of the $600,000 it gets annually.

The additional money is to cover construction of three three-bedroom duplexes and includes $250,000 for repairing 10 homes, Frost said.

In his letter last year, Caesar said that wasn’t enough. He asked for $500,000 annually for the next three to five years to cover repairs on 10 homes a year.

According to the letter, the community needed emergency, temporary housing for 48 to 60 families before winter, if possible. That hasn’t happened yet.

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

Others are deteriorating or have “marginal” levels of toxicity.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com