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Yukon housing affordability still waning: CMHC report

New apartments under construction expected to increase Whitehorse’s rental universe
Interior of new home construction. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) released its annual report on housing in northern Canada on Nov. 16.

It is a comprehensive snapshot that focuses on housing market conditions in the three capital cities — Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Iqaluit.

Last year’s report headlined — “Affordability challenges are among the most pressing issues facing housing markets throughout the North.”

This year’s report showed little progress — “Lack of affordable housing remains an issue in the North.”

At first glance, the report indicates that Whitehorse fared not too badly, with wage increases, moderate population growth and increased GDP in spite of higher unemployment levels. The report noted that average weekly earnings in the Yukon are 15 per cent higher than the national average. Higher wages are alluded to ease the burden of high mortgage and housing costs.

In spite of those numbers, the single Yukon highlight featured in the main body of the report states: “Affordable housing is out of reach for many households without financial assistance in Whitehorse.”

The challenge of housing affordability is felt most amongst lone-parent families and those who work in a few economic sectors. CMHC uses the national standard calculation for housing affordability. Housing is considered “affordable” if it costs no more than 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income.

The Yukon Bureau of Statistics’ June review indicated that average weekly wages in Yukon range between an average of $1,690 for public administration (federal, Yukon, municipal and First Nation government employees), while people working in the accommodation and food services sector earn an average of $573 per week.

High housing costs are a product of many factors: costs of land and land development; cost of services to land parcels; and the costs of construction, which are a combination of labour and materials. Building in Whitehorse costs considerably more than building in southern locations. Building in rural Yukon costs even more.

The CMHC report notes that the pandemic has seen many of those costs rise across the country.

“Widespread temporary shutdowns […] had an impact. They created unprecedented declines in: employment; incomes; migration; and increasing financial market stress.”

The report continues. “Labour market conditions have generally not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, despite demographic indicators improving since the start of the pandemic.”

This, coupled with a Consumer Price Index in Whitehorse of 3.7 per cent in April 2021 and a national inflation rate recently pegged at 4.7 per cent, will challenge household budgets.

The Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC) is aware of the rising costs. Darren Stahl, a YHC director, said lumber and construction costs have increased “dramatically.” There is also a labour shortage in the construction sector.

Those increases are already affecting federally funded housing projects in the territory.

“The costs for construction of our triplexes under the Rapid Housing Initiative came in higher than initially anticipated,” Stahl said. Other recipients of federal funding programs will likely feel the same increases.

YHC is now investing an additional $2.4 million to balance the rising material and construction costs, in addition to the federal funding of $3 million.

All this does not bode well for housing affordability.

CMHC’s report states that the annual household income required to afford the rent on a mobile home, a bachelor, a one- or two-bedroom apartment ranged from $33,640 to $48,400. These figures are unchanged from the 2020 CMHC report.

What has changed over the period of the last two reports is the income required to purchase a single-family dwelling. In 2018, Whitehorse households needed an annual income of at least $114,749 to purchase a single-family home, but the same measure for 2019 required an annual income of $132,095, significantly more than a year earlier.

Incomes are not keeping pace with the rising price of homes in Whitehorse.

The CMHC report stated that “in the second quarter of 2021, the average price of a single-detached home increased by more than $100,000 over the same quarter of 2020, to a record $650,700. Prices for duplexes and mobile homes also hit record highs under the same comparison.”

The good news in the report lies in the expected number of available units in the “rental universe.” The number is up from 2020 to April 2021, with 104 rental completions (and a few disappearances). The bright spot is that the report says that “there were 350 rental apartments at the end of the second quarter of 2021 in various stages of construction. Upon completion, these will increase rental supply in Whitehorse in the months ahead and potentially put upward pressure on the apartment vacancy rate.”

Many of these units have been constructed by, or with, financial contributions from YHC and/or CMHC.

Contact Lawrie Crawford at