Yukon commits cash to seniors’ housing plans

The Vimy Heritage Housing Society is one step closer to building a new seniors' housing option in Whitehorse.

The Vimy Heritage Housing Society is one step closer to building a new seniors’ housing option in Whitehorse.

The Yukon government is giving the non-profit group $50,000 to complete a functional plan for a new independent living building which is expected to have 75 units.

The plan will work out the details about what would needed at the proposed building. That includes the number of parking spots, for example, said Ranjit Sarin, the non-profit society’s president.

It should take about four months and “once that’s done we can get a much more accurate picture of how much that will cost,” he said.

The dream is to have shovels in the ground by spring 2017.

If the society’s annual general meeting was any indication, the community is really interested in this building.

About 70 people showed up, Sarin said.

“No matter where I go, people ask me, ‘What about Vimy?’” he told the News this week.

The idea is to have a facility where seniors live independently but with restaurant-style meals, housekeeping services and activities organized for residents on site.

The facility would be run by a not-for-profit board made of up residents elected among themselves.

It’s a common business model outside the territory. But it’s a new concept here, said Health Minister Mike Nixon, who attended the annual meeting.

Nixon told the News yesterday he’s gone to some of these facilities in Vancouver to see how they are run.

“The one that stands out for me, there was a guy who’s 55 years old living there, he’s paying $2,800 a month for his accommodations and he said, ‘I live like a king. My meals are all cooked for me, somebody comes in and cleans my suite for me and I can go off and do whatever I want.’ So he was a pretty happy camper.”

If everything goes as planned, a piece of Whitehorse land has already been set aside for the building.

The government is offering the society a portion of the lot at Fifth Avenue and Rogers Street in downtown Whitehorse.

The land is in the middle of being assessed right now. That’s expected to be done in June.

“Over the last couple of years, as they’ve completed their business case, there’s been discussions about the whole property or part of the property,” Nixon said.

“But I think Yukon government right now has allocated an area of land in that parcel that we’re committing, if after the functional planning has been completed, if that’s the parcel that they still wish to entertain then that would be available to them.”

Buildings up to six storeys can go on the land. It’s estimated that the society’s building would take up about a third of the lot, Sarin said.

Once built, the Vimy project’s operations would be run on rental payments. But the organization needs seed money to get started, Sarin said.

If they had to cover the whole mortgage, “the cost per unit would be exorbitant,” he said.

They’ll be looking at territorial and federal government funding options.

Nixon said no specific financial promises have been made by the territorial government at this point.

“But as I understand it, if the federal government was going to come to the table then I can’t see why the territorial government wouldn’t come to the table,” he said.

A lot depends on the federal budget released next week.

As it stands, it’s unlikely the project would qualify for the current Build Canada fund, Nixon said.

That fund offers grants made up of money from both the federal and territorial government.

But the new federal government has talked about plans for “social infrastructure” funding and “green infrastructure” funding, Nixon pointed out.

It’s possible the Vimy project could qualify for that money, but there’s no way to know yet, he said.

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