Housing and land development will soon be the focus of a new City of Whitehorse advisory committee.
The committee may soon take a step closer to becoming a reality for the city if council votes to move ahead with it and refer a proposed framework back to city staff for further development.
Wendy Donnithorne, the city’s manager of legislative services, brought the recommendation forward at council’s Feb. 21 meeting.
In a report, Donnithorne highlighted council’s December request to look at the possibility of such a committee and bring more information back to council.
High costs and a shortage of housing were noted. In the third quarter of 2021, the average cost to purchase a home saw single detached houses at $656,800, duplexes at $511,500, condos at $456,300 and mobile homes at $405,100. Meanwhile, for renters the vacancy rate in Whitehorse has declined from 3.8 per cent in April 2020 to 1.7 per cent in April 2021, while the median price rose from $1,100 to $1,173/month between April 2020 and April 2021.
The committee would be tasked with looking at ways to address housing issues by considering land supply and development as well as city permitting processes.
“Such a committee could provide expert advice to council from the community,” Donnithorne said.
For the committee to become a reality, under the city’s advisory committee bylaw, a framework and terms of reference need to be developed.
“Per the bylaw, the committee would be composed of a balanced representation of the community made up of no more than eight individuals who reside in Whitehorse,” Donnithorne said. “The terms of reference would then further qualify membership to those who have been involved in the land and housing development field.”
While the volunteer committee could have a maximum of eight members, the minimum number would be set at five.
Questioned by Coun. Ted Laking about the process in the event of a tie vote for the committee, Donnithorne explained that similar to such a situation for city council, the vote would be deemed to be defeated.
Coun. Kirk Cameron voiced his “two cents” for the committee to include those involved in housing ranging from financial institutions to associations who work with clients directly impacted by the situation such as Blood Ties Four Directions and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition among others.
Coun. Dan Boyd also wondered about a spot on the committee for Yukon government, with Donnithorne confirming that while there are no plans to designate spots for particular agencies, specific invitations would likely go out to inform agencies that members are being sought.
Included in Donnithorne’s report was a draft framework document for the terms of reference. She emphasized that efforts were made not to duplicate the work of other organizations involved in housing issues.
“Information generated by other groups can be reviewed and used by the committee, recognizing that the committee mandate is to make recommendations specifically to the city,” she said.
The committee, it was also stressed, would not be in place to review individual permits and applications. Rather, it would provide advise and recommendations at the policy level.
“It is proposed that the work of the committee would be focused on the elements of the housing development policies and process where the city holds authority such as planning of new development areas, issuance of building permits, development incentives, and key zoning regulations,” Donnithorne said. “In addition, there may be areas where the committee could consider where the city collaborates with Yukon government (YG), First Nations governments and the private sector in making land available for housing development.”
If council votes to confirm its intention to move ahead with the committee, administration would draft an anticipated budget for the committee, use the draft terms of reference to advertise for members and begin selection, finalize the terms of reference and bring forward any amendments from that for the advisory council bylaw. Supports would be put in place and preparations would begin for the committee to develop a work plan.
Council will vote Feb. 28 whether to move ahead with establishing the committee.
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