The new housing first initiative in downtown Whitehorse will be an apartment building, just like any other apartment building.
That’s according to Christine Tapp, acting director for the social supports branch of the Department of Health and Social Services.
“One of the core principles for housing first is social and community inclusion,” she said of the project, which will be located at 5th Avenue and Wood Street.
Housing first is a concept that focuses on providing vulnerable people with housing before providing any additional supports and services that may be needed.
This means abstinence from dugs and alcohol are not conditions of qualifying for housing first units.
Tapp said that has led to concerns from neighbours surrounding the site, but she said that’s par for the course with new ideas, even if they’re only new to Whitehorse.
“When we look at other jurisdictions, there is great support,” she said.
“I think we’re really supportive and we value inclusive communities and that is, again, one of the core foundational principles for housing first.”
Tapp has worked on similar projects in Vancouver.
She pointed to Uplands Walk, a 33-unit complex that opened in the Dover neighbourhood of Nanaimo in 2015. In the beginning, surrounding residents worried about crime rates, property values, and proximity of the complex to schools.
After it had been open for a year, a student group from Vancouver Island University did an assessment that found crime rates in Dover were average when compared to other neighbourhoods on the island. Property values experienced an average increase of $65,000, compared to $56,000 increases elsewhere.
In Whitehorse, Tapp said the site was previously home to a temporary cold weather shelter, and, from 2010 to 2016, a group home for high-needs individuals.
This project will also be looking at moderate to high-needs individuals who would benefit from supportive housing.
Tapp said that YG hasn’t settled on a model for what this will look like, but a call for proposals will go out this spring. She said it will likely set out an overall framework, based on best practices in other jurisdictions, but be open to changes suggested by the organizations that respond.
She said the hope is that the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has its new By Name housing list (a specialized list of people who are episodically or chronically homeless) coordinated enough that project organizers can use that list to fill the 16 units.
She said she is also hopeful that the complex will have, as Uplands Walk does, onsite staff 24-7. That way, she said, there is always someone available to respond to any concerns residents and neighbours may have.
Darren Stahl, director of capital infrastructure and maintenance, said the site was chosen for the project because YG already owned the lot, which eliminated the cost of buying new land. It was also zoned to CM1 designation, which allows for this type of building.
Additionally, being downtown, it’s central to amenities. Everything is within walking distance, including services tenants might need.
Stahl said there was no requirement for public consultation, but YG did put flyers out in the neighbourhood in November. He said two residents made calls.
Residents can continue to call 667-5712 with questions and concerns.
Once designs for the project are finalized, he said YG will inform the surrounding neighbourhoods of what the building will look like.
Tapp said there will be additional outreach once an organization is chosen to develop and manage programming at the complex.
She’s unsure what form that will take, but she said the plan is definitely to have conversations with neighbours about what the complex will look like and how it will operate.
“This has been done in a lot of other jurisdictions and with a lot of success,” she said.
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