Esther Armstrong, Housing Navigator for Victoria Faulkner Womenճ Centre, says staying on the social housing wait list can be as difficult for some as getting on it. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon’s housing wait list increase shows need for affordable housing, advocates say

Housing navigators say the increased number paints a more accurate picture of the need in Whitehorse

The number of people on the Yukon’s social housing wait list has more than doubled this year compared to last, but that doesn’t mean there was a sudden increase in demand for affordable housing, several Whitehorse housing navigators say.

Instead, those numbers are just painting a more accurate picture of how many people are actually in need of affordable housing.

Responding to a question in the Legislative assembly, Pauline Frost, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, said last week that as of Oct. 25 there were 168 people on the social housing waiting list in Whitehorse and 24 in the communities for a total of 192.

That’s compared to 105 at the end of July last year.

Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s housing navigator Meg Grudeski said the Oct. 25 number wasn’t surprising.

“It is alarming that we have that many people on a list, but I don’t think those numbers are outside what the reality of people trying to find affordable housing is,” she said.

“I think the wait list numbers are probably going to go up because we are trying to make sure that (Yukon Housing has) the most up to date and accurate reflection of people who would benefit from rent-geared-to-income housing.”

Blood Ties Four Directions’ Dana Hart agreed, saying that at a recent meeting, Yukon Housing officials said there has been an influx of “really thorough applications” since organizations have hired housing navigators to assist people with the application process.

But that doesn’t mean getting on the list still isn’t a challenge.

“You need to have two pieces of ID, have done your taxes for last year and have lived in the Yukon for a year to be eligible, and those can be barriers for folks,” Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre’s Esther Armstrong said.

Getting on the list isn’t the end of the story either. In order to stay on the list, people have to call Yukon Housing every month to let the corporation know they’re still interested.

“Calling every month can be hard from some folks, especially if they’re experiencing homelessness at the time and struggling to get even their basic needs met, making that monthly call can be difficult,” Armstrong said.

Putting in that monthly call can be even more challenging for people with cognitive disabilities, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon’s executive director Wenda Bradley said.

“For our folks specifically, if you’re looking at a disability that … affects your memory, it affects your ability to plan, different things like that,” she said. “If you have to remember all these steps to maintain your housing or just your name on a list, it becomes very difficult — ‘When did I last do that?’ You can’t remember when you last did it. Was it last week or two weeks ago or four weeks ago? And you don’t have an address if you’re homeless, how can you be notified, and are you notified, that you haven’t done this? All these things come into play.”

Because housing is assigned by urgency, not who comes first — victims of violence and people with disabilities, for example, get priority — people on the list also don’t know how long they may be waiting.

“If you do get information that you’re at the top of the list, that can change day-to-day based on the needs of other people coming in, so I think it’s difficult to manage people’s anticipation or expectations,” Grudeski said. “That’s not to say that’s the fault of Yukon Housing Corporation, it’s good that they’re trying to triage … but it’s definitely a difficult thing if people hear that they’re near the top of the list, there’s an expectation that they’re going to be housed, and when that changes, they can feel (frustrated).”

The best way to relieve the pressure on system, the housing navigators all said, is to make more affordable housing available.

“(There are) not enough units in general, whether we’re talking about subsidized housing or private rental markets,” Armstrong said. “I think sometimes the system’s pieces can get people caught, but at the end of the day, I think we just need more housing and a better income strategy and more supports with everything that comes along with that.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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