Whitehorse city council can’t work with Cathers: mayor

Whitehorse city council wants nothing more to do with Brad Cathers, minister for Community Services and the Yukon Housing Corporation.

Whitehorse city council wants nothing more to do with Brad Cathers, minister for Community Services and the Yukon Housing Corporation.

Council voted unanimously on Monday to ask Premier Darrell Pasloski to remove Cathers from those files.

“I certainly don’t see his strengths being at a community level,” said Mayor Dan Curtis in an interview Tuesday. “We’ve been struggling for quite a while with this minister. I personally don’t feel that he shares the same values that our municipality does. I feel like the relationship is really tarnished because of the action and disrespect I feel that he has been treating our municipality with.”

Curtis has been asking the premier for the better part of a year to find something else for Cathers to do, he said.

The affordable housing issue has been a major sticking point, said Curtis.

A much-publicized plan to build new affordable rentals in Whitehorse with federal money earmarked for affordable housing was quashed at the last minute earlier this year, after developers had spent tens of thousands of dollars on proposals, because of a backlash from the real estate and landlord associations.

“It would be news-of-the-weird if I called up any of my counterparts in Canada and said, ‘This government just turned away tens of millions of dollars in development that came directly from the federal government and the business community, the home-ground people here that want to put money into our community,’” said Curtis. “And we’re disbanding it? Saying ‘No, thanks, take it somewhere else?’ It’s irresponsible and it’s almost unbelievable.”

When the Association of Yukon Communities voted unanimously to ask the minister to co-operate with municipalities to act on the affordable housing file, Cathers showed no interest, said Curtis.

“As soon as the resolution came out of our mouths, our minister is there saying, that’s unfortunate, because it’s not going to fly, I don’t think it’s a priority and we’re just not going to do anything,” he said.

With previous Community Services ministers there were open lines of communication and respect, said Curtis.

“That really has dried up. I have not had a really good, open dialogue with this minister.”

In perhaps what was the last straw, Curtis did not receive an invitation to a meeting hosted by Cathers on Monday to discuss with stakeholders options to spend the remaining affordable housing money, Curtis said.

“When I’m not being included and engaged in these conversations, it’s very, very disrespectful and it’s a breaking of fundamental protocol,” he said.

“It’s more than an occasion. It seems like an MO with this minister.”

Cathers and Pasloski have not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has twice in the last week asked the premier to remove Cathers from the housing file over the affordable housing bungle, although not since Whitehorse city council passed the resolution.

In previous answers the premier has expressed neither support nor condemnation of Cathers in his ministerial roles, but instead dodged the questions and spoke generally to the government’s accomplishments on the housing file.

Every industry is calling for more affordable housing in Whitehorse, from tourism to retail to mining, said Curtis.

“The mining executives have met with me, and they’re almost pounding their fists on the table, saying, ‘Mayor Curtis, what are you doing to address affordable housing? Because we cannot afford to have people flying in and flying out. We want people settling here, staying for two weeks, going to the mine, putting some money back into our community.’”

Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, confirmed that the chamber has been advocating for more affordable housing in the territory for years.

Big mine projects like Casino that could be coming down the pipes could employ thousands, and the industry would prefer to have them grow roots in the Yukon, he said.

“Our preference is to have them contributing to the tax base and contributing to infrastructure and the quality of life that we have all come to enjoy.”

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has also expressed concern about the government’s inaction on affordable housing.

Chamber president Rick Karp was at Monday’s meeting with Cathers.

“It was a short meeting,” said Karp. “It was scheduled for just one hour. It didn’t really give us a lot of opportunity to discuss the issue.”

Most of the ideas brought to the table by Cathers had to do with social housing, not affordable housing. That does not address the real issue, said Karp.

“We’ve had a lot of businesses contact us saying, ‘I brought up this manager, and everything is great. They’re really happy, but they can’t find affordable accommodation and they’re leaving.”

In the legislature Cathers has repeatedly insisted that the rental vacancy rate in the Yukon has jumped from 1.5 to 7.1 per cent, without mentioning that the methodology to collect those numbers has changed significantly.

Comparing apples to apples, it is accurate to say the vacancy rate has gone from 1.5 to 4.7 per cent for buildings with three or more rental units, according to the most recent statistics.

Digging further into the numbers, it becomes clear that for some types of affordable rentals, the vacancy rate remains extremely low.

Mobile homes have a vacancy rate of just 1.2 per cent. For apartment buildings it’s 4.2 per cent.

Comparatively, condos have a vacancy of 9.9 per cent and duplexes (including rental suites within in a home) have a vacancy of 13.6 per cent.

Average rental rates remain at record high levels.

“In the area that we would like to concentrate on, which is people in the lower income, working very hard, who need to have affordable rentals, it seems that there is a much lower vacancy rate than what is being reported,” said Karp.

“To say that there is no need is a joke,” said Liberal Leader Sandy Silver.

“To turn around at this late stage and put all of the money towards social housing, I wonder if they know the difference.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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