Territory abandons affordable housing plan

The Yukon government's plan to put affordable housing at the corner of Range Road and Mountainview Drive is dead in the water. The territory had a much-vaunted plan to sell the 10-acre lot.

The Yukon government’s plan to put affordable housing at the corner of Range Road and Mountainview Drive is dead in the water.

The territory had a much-vaunted plan to sell the 10-acre lot with a requirement that the developer put at least 30 affordable housing units on the land. But only two developers bid on the project, and the government said neither submission met the minimum requirements.

Now Lot 1547 – formerly Lot 262 – is up for sale “as is,” with no requirements for developers to put affordable housing on the site.

“It’s disappointing. Sadly it’s not surprising. The government promised affordable housing on Lot 262. This was their innovative approach that was going to solve our housing crisis,” said Kate White, the NDP’s MLA for Takhini-Kopper King.

White said she doesn’t understand why the government would give up on a plan it had trumpeted in the legislature, especially without asking developers what it should change to make the site more appealing.

“They did not re-engage the business community. They didn’t. There is nothing that says they tried again to make this work. Now, just under a year later, this comes quietly out as a public tender. Gone is the hope of affordable housing there,” White said.

Housing Minister Scott Kent could not be reached for comment by press time, but cabinet spokesman Matthew Grant said the government did go back to industry for input after the first tenders failed.

“We did go back and discuss with the contracting community, those that had expressed interest but didn’t submit. They listed a number of reasons, including they didn’t feel the location was the greatest location. There is also an easement to the property that they considered problematic. So, in line with other platform commitments including to make land available to Yukoners, we put that land out to tender,” Grant said.

White is also frustrated that the government discounted both bids out of hand. An Alberta company called Commonwealth Corporate Support Services bid only $100 for the site. The site is now valued at $615,000 but White said when you consider what else the Alberta developer could have provided, it easily would have been possible.

“That company wanted to build 100 affordable homes on the property. They would prepare the site, build the homes and manage them for 15 years. When you think that 100 homes could have been there, it would have cost the government $60,000 a home. That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?” White said.

Grant couldn’t say whether changing the minimum requirements for affordable housing on the property was ever considered.

Rick Karp, the president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said he’s also saddened to see the project given up so easily.

“The chamber is very interested in affordable housing right now. We’re not convinced that this move is going to support that.”

Karp said the issue is about far more than cheap housing. It goes right to the heart of the territory’s social ills, he said.

Karp cited a Business Council of British Columbia study that showed that poverty and poor housing will cost that province more than $403 billion in lost productivity in the next 30 years if the situation isn’t corrected.

Karp said he also thinks the government should have done more to engage developers and find a way to make the project work. Instead, the government is trying to wash its hands of the site, he said.

“They said ‘Let’s just sell it,’ and I think that … is not the way they should have gone. When it wasn’t successful with the first request for proposals, they should have gone back to the developers and said, ‘What did we do wrong?’” Karp said.

Grant highlighted other initiatives the government is pursuing to provide affordable housing, including help for 12 Upper Liard residents whose homes were flooded last year, 34 units for low-income seniors, 14 units for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and Habitat for Humanity allotments in the Whistle Bend subdivision.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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