The Whistle Bend Continuing Care Facility, photographed on July 17, is expected to open in October. Of the 250 employees needed for the facility, approximately 150 will come from Outside and they are being warned about the lack of housing in Whitehorse. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

YG helping Whistle Bend hires facing housing hunt

‘We always knew there would be significant housing required’

Whistle Bend’s new continuing care facility will offer homes for seniors. Where exactly many of the building’s staff will live remains an open question.

The Yukon government is being up-front about the lack of housing in Whitehorse when it interviews potential new staffers for the facility, said Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services.

“We’re letting them know,” said Living. “We’re not hiding that fact.”

Living said roughly 50 per cent of the 250 employees needed for the facility have been hired. She said 100 of them are Yukon hires, with the rest coming from Outside.

Living said she is confident the facility will open in October, but that employees moving North have been advised to begin looking for apartments now.

“We’re giving them all the information because it can be challenging,” she said, noting that the city’s current housing situation is “not completely unexpected.”

“We always knew that is was always going to be a big build and that it was going to require a considerable number of staff. We always knew there would be significant housing required.”

However, she said, the housing market waxes and wanes. Sometimes vacancy rates are high and sometimes they’re low.

In June, Mary Cameron, vice president of corporate services for Yukon Housing Corporation, spoke at a housing conference. She said the population in the Yukon has grown at a rate of about 620 people per year over the last 10 years. In 2017, she said the vacancy rate was 2.8 per cent.

Living said the government started speaking publicly about housing needs in Whistle Bend in 2015, when ground was broken at the continuing care site.

“We started talking then about the people that would be coming up from out of territory,” she said. “(We were) giving contractors and builders a heads-up that we’re going to have this influx of people.”

Living said it’s not that the government was simply hoping the rental market would suddenly change in time for the facility’s opening, but that YG was trying to give notice that demand would increase in the hopes that developers might move to meet it with more housing supply.

At the City of Whitehorse’s July 16 standing committees meeting however, local developer Randy Audette sought to have the zoning changed on a Whistle Bend property he purchased this year. The property had been on the market for six years at the time Audette acquired it. Audette asked council for a zoning change to build a townhouse development of 36 to 40 units rather than the 50-unit apartment complex the property is zoned for.

Council is scheduled to vote on the request July 23.

At a previous council meeting, Audette said he’d spoken with realtors about demand in Whistle Bend. He said he’d been told renters wanted the convenience of being located downtown, closer to the kinds of amenities (including restaurants and grocery stores) he doesn’t see coming to Whistle Bend in the near future.

According to YG, commercial space could be developed along Keno Way as early as 2019.

Living said that while YG isn’t in the business of housing its employees, the government is trying to offer as much assistance as possible to new hires. It’s giving them web links to rental boards. It’s also giving them an idea of the city’s layout, so someone without a car, who may be doing shift work, doesn’t end up living downtown or in Riverdale without an understanding of what that commute might look like.

She said the government has also been postering and emailing existing staff about potential rental and roommate opportunities. She said there will be a diverse group of people looking for different types of housing — everything from homes to buy to apartments to share.

Before this week, she said roughly a dozen people had come forward offering space, but when the Whitehorse Star ran a story about the housing needs in Whistle Bend, it “kind of exploded.”

Living said she doesn’t have numbers, but knows YG has had offers from people within the department, and from people outside the department who have space.

“We want to sort of help them as much as we can,” she said.

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

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