The proposal to convert the Coast High Country Inn into a 55-unit supportive housing development is moving forward.
Whitehorse city council voted Aug. 30 to submit an application for the Safe at Home Society’s project to the federal Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI).
With council not scheduled to meet due to its summer break, a special meeting was called for the vote to ensure the application could be submitted by the Aug. 31 deadline.
“It’s exciting,” Safe at Home executive director Kate Mechan said in an interview following the council meeting. “I’m really heartened.”
The RHI, under the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation, aims to address urgent housing needs for vulnerable Canadians, through rapid construction of affordable housing.
A total of $5 million has been identified for Whitehorse as an eligible municipality.
The Safe at Home Society has been working towards purchasing the hotel for the project.
“The Safe at Home Society’s sole purpose is to work to end homelessness and the provision of safe and supportive housing is long overdue for the individuals who are still in need,” Mechan said in a statement. “Homelessness has far reaching consequences that impact everyone is this community and COVID-19 has served as yet another reminder of the impact inequities have on those who still do not have their most basic needs met. 4051- 4th Ave will help resolve these urgent gaps in the housing and support continuum from a housing-first, harm-reduction, and trauma-informed model of care.”
In a presentation at the meeting, Mechan pointed to the most recent Point In Time count that found 151 people experiencing homelessness in the city.
“There’s no question of the need,” she said.
The property, owned by Northern Vision Development (NVD), would be sold for $10 million with another $4 to $5 million needed for renovations.
The project had been proposed in 2020 under the “projects stream” funding of the Rapid Housing Initiative, but was not successful due to funding limitations.
Mechan said when the RHI was first made available, the society began looking at possibilities in Whitehorse to retrofit existing buildings.
Through discussions with NVD, the option to purchase the Coast High Country Inn came about. Mechan described NVD as a phenominal partner and “driving force” in the project.
On Aug. 25, the society received a letter from Ranj Pillai, minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, stating the housing corporation would support the RHI application under the municipal stream, subject for funding approval, operation plans and long-term viability both from a financial and programming perspective.
“YHC has also indicated that it will require that it be listed as the owner of the property should the society collapse or fail financially,” Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, stated in a report to council. “This will allow it to assume responsibility for the ownership and operation of the facility, and ensure funding conditions are fulfilled.”
The report to council went on to point out that while the city isn’t mandated to develop or operate housing, it is responsible for planning land uses and development regulations.
“This RHI program is an opportunity to provide additional external funding to partners who are in a position to provide housing,” Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, stated in presenting the report to council.
The plan for the building would see at least 75 per cent of the suites reserved for Indigenous tenants and a minimum of 50 per cent for women.
A section of 16 studio apartments will also be developed for young adults aged 18 to 24.
A total of 27 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom apartments will make up the remainder of the units. On the ground floor a number of shared spaces are planned for residents, including a space for gatherings, programming and a healing space.
Mechan said, if funding is approved, renovations are planned to begin in January 2022 with the first residents expected to move in September 2022. A phased move-in for residents is planned.
“Under the proposed arrangement, the city would be contributing the $5 million allocation from CMHC to YHC to add to YHC’s allocation for the society to purchase the property and renovate the facility to become supportive housing,” Gau said. “The ongoing operation of the building would be funded largely through existing government programs. The city would therefore provide some initial financing contribution, but have no ongoing ownership or operational responsibility.”
Both Mechan and YHC president Mary Cameron made separate presentations to council outlining the plans.
Answering questions posed by council members, Cameron explained part of the process through YHC and CHMC will include reviewing the business plan for the project to ensure operational programming and budgeting is in place.
Council members vocalized their support for the project prior to the unanimous vote in favour of submitting the funding application. They also confirmed zoning will not need to be changed and that significant consultation will get underway with stakeholders and partners to plan for the project.
“I would strongly endorse this project and, provided it passes tonight, I really look forward to seeing how it could impact the well-being and have a positive legacy for improved housing in the city,” Coun. Steve Roddick said ahead of the vote.
The decision to submit the application for RHI funding to CHMC represents the first of a number of steps needed for the project to get the project off the ground.
Further city approvals would include the signing of a contribution agreement with CHMC, a budget amendment and transferring of funds to Yukon Housing, as well as a contribution agreement with Yukon Housing.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com