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Time for a housing plan

One step forward, two steps back. That's what the housing situation feels like in Whitehorse. Members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition are pleased about a number of recent announcements:

One step forward, two steps back. That’s what the housing situation feels like in Whitehorse.

Members of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition are pleased about a number of recent announcements:

* more consultation on changes to the Landlord and Tenant Act, which could lead to better rental standards and a rent review process;

* five lots allocated to Habitat for Humanity at Whistle Bend;

* the City of Whitehorse introducing more zoning and development incentives to encourage more housing, construction, and

* the recent announcement that Kaushee’s Place’s 10-unit second-stage housing project will be completed by the fall of 2013.

Those are the steps forward.

We see, however, many steps backwards. There is a growing unease that more and more people are facing increased rents, substandard housing and even fewer affordable rental options.

The 50 units of affordable housing at Sternwheeler Village will be turned into condos. What will residents do? We hope the Yukon Housing Corporation can come up with some creative ways to help people stay in their homes - otherwise many will be looking for alternative accommodation in an extremely tight market.

It sounds as if the old Alexander Street residence will not be renovated but torn down. Those units are lost and there is no word that supportive housing will indeed be built in its place. What is the plan?

The Range Road Lot 262 mixed rental unit, project put forward by Yukon Housing has stalled and the status of the project is unknown. If it is revitalized, we strongly suggest that a different and more suitable location be found for the project. And it seems the incentives for developers were inadequate.

If you consider the housing needs of potential employees who want to work in the Yukon and the needs of Yukoners living in substandard housing, this crisis has gotten worse.

The suggestion that the private sector can find housing solutions comes up against the logic of how the private sector works. Developers and landowners have a profit incentive - they are scanning the situation and may come up with a number of options:

* buy a property and build on it. These days, that usually means condos;

* buy a property with housing units on it and charge what the market will bear to earn an acceptable rate of return;

* if you already own a property and buildings, you can adjust prices upward, particularly in a low vacancy rate market, for more profit;

* and if you own property with mobile units on it, you can move those units off the property and build new units on your property.

All of the above can result in less affordable housing for low-income individuals and families, including the working poor. The only way to get the private sector to produce affordable housing is to make sure the right kind of incentives are in place.

Otherwise, it’s not in their interest.

Perhaps it’s time for the City of Whitehorse and Yukon government to sit down, do some research on and with other jurisdictions, and come up with a plan to ensure Whitehorse can handle the level of condominium development that is currently underway.

Perhaps it’s time for the City of Whitehorse and Yukon government to sit down with stakeholders to develop a long term plan as well as a short term response to the housing crunch. Perhaps it’s time for creative solutions and a sense of urgency.

One of the effects of being without a plan is that rumours abound, anxieties increase and the most vulnerable in our community are caught in the middle.

What kind of talks are going on with the Salvation Army? Who might be housed? Who might not?

Why do landlords receive up to $900 per month for a single room or a campsite if the resident is a social assistance client?

Has the territory had offers of affordable housing from developers? Are they following up on them?

Building affordable housing is a complex, complicated issue. It takes courage to act in the presence of resistance and the force of NIMBYism (not in my backyard).

It takes courage from all levels of government, and it takes courage from individuals who may disagree with proposals but are willing to examine their own thinking and values about a very important issue.

What we have now is a series of periodic government announcements on housing. What we need is a systematic, co-ordinated plan.

At the very least, members of the coalition hope that governments get serious about working together and developing a vision for the city that includes a home for everyone.

So much work has already been done here and in other communities. Let’s use it.

Bill Thomas is chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s Housing Task Force.