Premier Sandy Silver presents a pair of work boots to Jillian Hardie of the Challenge Disability Resource Group. Despite Silver claiming in a tweet that Challenge would get money for an affordable housing project, there appears to be no cash in the budget. (Twitter)

Yukon government can’t confirm how much it’s spending on housing project

Budget has no line item for Challenge housing project the government promised to support

The Yukon government promises to “support” an affordable housing project in downtown Whitehorse, but won’t clearly define what that means.

Communications director Sunny Patch said that support will include money to buy the land for the Challenge Disability Resource Group’s complex.

Patch could not say how much the government will contribute. She confirmed there is no line item in the budget for the Challenge project. She said YG will find money within other projects in the budget.

“What I can say for sure is, with no uncertainty, we are completely committed to the Challenge project,” said Patch.

She said YG is still working on finalizing an agreement with Challenge about what further support looks like.

There is no date for when that agreement will be complete.

The Cornerstone Complex is an affordable housing complex intended to offer seven penthouses and 42 affordable housing units, as well as NGO office space, on a lot located at 704 Main St.

The City of Whitehorse and the CDRG entered into a land sale agreement for the lot in March 2017.

The original closing date for the lot was July 28, 2017. Early last July, the CDRG applied to extend the date to January 24, 2018. That date was extended a second time in January, based, in part, on the CDRG having asked the Yukon government for $7-million in funding.

The current closing date is March 26.

During the 2018 territorial budget speech on March 1, Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver said the government would “be working with the Challenge Disability Resource Group to conclude an agreement on government support for its affordable housing project in Whitehorse.”

But earlier that day, Silver tweeted a picture of himself handing a pair of work boots to Jillian Hardie, executive director of CDRG.

“With our housing money in the 2018/19 budget we look forward to supporting their cornerstone project,” he tweeted.

On March 6, Hardie confirmed the government had not committed money to the Cornerstone project.

Also on March 6, Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, said the government had not committed any funding to the project. She then said she couldn’t definitively say the government has not committed funding to the project.

“We have yet to finalize any details, but over the coming months we’re going to be working very closely with Challenge to conclude an agreement,” said Living. “We recognize that although there are some deadlines, a project of this size will take a little bit more time.”

The morning of March 7, Patch said the government would be funding the lot purchase.

If funding for the project doesn’t come through by the March 26 closing date, the CDRG will have to turn the land back to the city. According to a city policy that protects NGOs, the CDRG will not lose its $84,000 deposit.

If another buyer puts money down on the lot (Hardie has heard there was another interested buyer at the time the CDRG bid successfully for the lot), the CDRG will have to find another location for the Cornerstone Complex.

Hardie said finding out about the lack of funding at this stage of the process has left the CDRG in a bit of a scramble, but said she feels positive.

“We have, in the past, sat down and presented (the government) a number,” she said. “By them not putting a number on it, the government is allowing (us) a bit more flexibility to determine what Challenge can do on its own in terms of fundraising.”

On March 9, Hardie and Antonio Zedda (of Kobayashi and Zedda Architects) will travel to Vancouver to ask the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Innovation Fund for $2.4 million toward the project.

Hardie said she should find out that day if the project will advance to the second stage of the funding process.

She said the CDRG also applied to the CMHCs affordable rental housing program, which would allow the organization to amortize over 50 years “which is a significant change in the budget,” she said. “This is a viable option for us.”

She said she doesn’t know when CDRG will hear back.

In the meantime, she said the CDRG is in regular contact with the territorial government, which is checking in daily.

Hardie is looking forward to working on programming, which was scheduled to begin in April, after the closing date.

“Once the land is purchased then we can start kind of working diligently,” she said. “But not as panicked, or as stressed.”

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

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