Sue Harding, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association, poses for a photo in Whitehorse on Jan. 17. Harding says the Yukon government’s new staff housing policy will do nothing to attract teachers to rural communities. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

YTA calls out Yukon government’s new staff housing policy

The president says more housing should be created

The Yukon government’s new staff housing policy will do nothing to attract educators to rural communities, said the president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association.

“There’s no housing available in a lot of our communities and this doesn’t have a plan to create more housing,” said Sue Harding earlier this week.

This policy, which started May 28, will free up rental units and encourage employees to arrive and stay in communities, government officials say.

It does this in part by placing a time limit on government housing for employees – a maximum of three years. The policy permits extensions in some cases.

Harding said that this won’t work.

“That doesn’t benefit any school anywhere. It’s not going to encourage anyone to stay. When you’re told when you go in there you only have housing for three years and there’s nowhere else realistically to rent, or most first-year or second-year (teachers) don’t have the finances to build, then you suddenly start looking for other places to work,” she said, adding that this policy could force teachers to leave the Yukon.

More housing needs to be built, Harding said.

The Yukon Housing Corporation, which manages government housing in communities, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Harding said success of students largely depends on how long a teacher stays at a given school.

“They form relationships with those teachers and the learning is just that much better. You want to have consistency in your workforce, in your teachers; you want those teachers to dedicate themselves to that community, feel like they’re part of that community and maybe put down roots.”

A plan that will help employees stay permanently in communities could eventually be rolled out, Eva Wieckowski, director of client relations at the Yukon Housing Corporation, told the News recently.

“Our intention is to put a program together to incentivize staff to be able to purchase or build their own dwelling,” she said.

Harding said she doesn’t think this program will be in place soon enough if the government is putting a time limit on housing.

“We understand that this is a big problem,” she said, “but it’s been ignored by this government and by previous governments and now it’s starting to become a big problem combined with the shortage of teachers across Canada.”

The new policy introduces a two-tiered system to ensure that people with high priority or hard to fill positions are housed quickly. For instance, a teacher would be chosen first over, say, a conservation officer. Two waitlists that correspond with each class will be created.

Rental rates will also be going up for government employees so that rent is on par with market-based rent — that is if the community is big enough to have one.

Existing tenants will see an increase of roughly 2.2 per cent per year, a gradual increase, effective July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020.

The increase only applies to members belonging to the Yukon Teachers’ Association at this time. The Yukon Employees’ Union is in the process of negotiating a new collective agreement with the government.

Where there isn’t a market-based rent, housing will be considered a taxable benefit.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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