Whitehorse housing prices will remain high

Whitehorse’s housing market is red hot and shows little sign of slowing. The territory’s robust economy mixed with a shortage of…

Whitehorse’s housing market is red hot and shows little sign of slowing.

The territory’s robust economy mixed with a shortage of available residential lots will keep pushing housing prices up.

In Whitehorse, the average price of a single-detached home is 18.6-per-cent higher than a year ago.

In 2005, houses were going for an average of $182,000. So far in 2006, that number has risen to $206,656, according to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation statistics from June.

“Demand is outpacing supply,” Vinay Bhardwaj, the corporation’s market analysis manager, told reporters this week.

But that’s not the only reason for the hikes.

Economic health can determine the housing market, says corporation market analyst Danielle Chabot.

And Whitehorse’s is strong, according to corporation stats.

Its unemployment rate is pegged at 5.2 per cent, less than the Canadian average of 6.5 per cent.

Consumer spending is up, and predicted to rise another 3.5 per cent in 2007, because of the low unemployment rate and the Yukoners’ healthy savings.

“The majority of the population in the Yukon does not appear to be struggling with debt issues, unlike their fellow Canadians,” said Chabot.

And government spending is also up.

So, the Yukon can expect a hot housing market until the end of 2007, she said.

CMHC predicts economic growth of 3.1 in 2006, and 4.9 per cent in 2007.

US cities are starting to see a slowdown in housing prices, raising concerns that Canada will suffer the same fate, according to a Housing Bubble Watch report drafted by economists at Toronto Dominion Bank.

Although “dramatic price gains” like those seen in major centres, like Calgary and Vancouver, are unsustainable in the long term, Canada’s housing economy continues to boom, says the report released on August 31.

“We don’t anticipate that prices will be coming down; they’ll continue to rise but not at the same rates as before,” said Bhardwaj.

For example, CMHC predicts housing prices across the provinces will rise 12.0 per cent between 2005 and 2006, and 6.4 per cent between 2006 and 2007.

It has yet to compile accurate Yukon predictions, but expects it to follow regional trends.

In the runup to municipal and territorial elections, there’s little doubt land development and housing is a hot issue in Whitehorse.

After a three-year council term plagued with land-development issues — from a contentious subdivision planned in Porter Creek to the botched greenspace referendum to the stymied infill development in Riverdale — Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa is working to head off any more problems before they crop up.

So the city brought the CMHC reps in to share their research and take the community’s pulse on where land development is heading.

“The major challenge for the city as a whole is going to be land-use planning,” said Bourassa, who is running for re-election in next month’s municipal vote.

“We have to take a long-term approach to planning and look 30 to 40 years down the road and make sure that the decisions we make now are sustainable ones for the future.”

CMHC held a public-information session and met with reps from the city, the territory, First Nations and community groups this week.

“The information will be compiled and released to the public and, hopefully, people will find nuggets of wisdom in it that will help people up here make better decisions,” said Bhardwaj.

The next major project on the city’s books is to develop residential lots in the Porter Creek Lower Bench.

This week, it hosted a public session on sustainable neighbourhood planning and introduced the Charrette process — a high-speed session in which community members partner up to work out particular urban design issues.

“The Porter Creek bench is the city’s next major residential development and will accommodate a significant portion of our growth over the next 20 years,” said Bourassa.

Saturday, the city will host a two-hour public walk through the area slated for development.

And, next week it will put on a barbecue for residents of Takhini North, Takhini Estates and Normandy Estates on September 21, as a soft kickoff for the area’s infrastructure redevelopment and new subdivision proposal.