Jillian Hardie, executive director of the Challenge Disability Resource Group (CDRG), speaks at the funding announcement for the Cornerstone Building project at its future location at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on July 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse affordable housing project gets $1M grant from city

‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without Challenge’

It’s a one in a million chance — that’s what Dan Curtis called a municipal grant of $1 million, given to the Cornerstone Building project on July 31.

Flanked by councillors Rob Fendrick and Jocelyn Curteanu and Premier Sandy Silver, Curtis presented a cheque to Jillian Hardie, executive director of the Challenge Disability Resource Group (CDRG), the organization behind the build.

They were gathered at the future site of the building, at the end of Main Street near the Pioneer Cemetery.

Once complete, Cornerstone will provide 48 affordable rental units and seven condos for sale.

Curtis said he was proud to see the municipal government contributing funds toward affordable housing in the city.

“The council of the day gives their vision to administration,” he said. “Administration does all the heavy lifting and all the work to find out a way, a viable possibility, to help with initiatives and things that are within our strategic priorities. So Coun. Fendrick was saying, ‘I want brick and mortar’ and I was saying, ‘We can’t do that, that’s not possible.’ Well, he was right and I’m wrong.”

Silver was likewise excited to see the project coming together. It has faced funding challenges in the last year.

In March of 2018, the Yukon government agreed to provide up to $6 million of funding to support the project. CDRG had continued to apply for funding elsewhere to help the project go ahead. Council had previously asked city administration to come up with ideas to help.

The report on the one-time contribution of $1 million was presented at a standing committees meeting on July 4 after it was determined CDRG does not qualify for the city’s development initiative policy, which may grant a maximum of $50,000 annually to develop a housing project.

Silver added that Cornerstone is also eligible for the Yukon Housing Corporation’s (YHC) municipal matching rental construction grant, as well as YHC’s new builder development loan program and the housing initiatives fund.

The announcement closed out with an emotional speech from Tamara Perzan, store operations manager at CDRG-run store Twisted Woodworks.

She told the crowd that she has struggled since 2012, with PTSD agoraphobia, cyclical vomiting sickness, dissociative disorder, severe panic and anxiety, and depression.

“I wasn’t given a very encouraging prognosis,” she said, noting that she went on to be suicidal for two years. Determined to heal and regain her life, in 2013, she applied for an employability skills program at CDRG.

“I was shown unconditional love and acceptance. Learning to retrain myself to do things just a little bit different … it also showed us self-esteem and confidence. That program was a springboard that connected me to services and supports instrumental in fostering a far better quality of life than I’d hoped for.”

She said her story isn’t unique, and that Cornerstone will provide access to services for a number of Yukoners in similar positions.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Challenge and I look forward to seeing the lives of so many others be forever changed because of project Cornerstone,” she said.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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