A $2-million housing construction project in Ross River has had to “cease and desist” due to “misappropriation” on the part of its contractor, according to Pauline Frost, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corp. (YHC).
However, all of the parties now involved – the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC), Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the YHC – are keeping mum about what exactly has gone wrong.
INAC provided the RRDC with $2.2 million in 2016-2017 for “house planning, renovations, and construction” in the community of about 400 people, according to INAC Yukon regional spokesperson Rick Massie.
That funding was intended for the demolition of abandoned homes for future builds, renovations to 10 homes and the construction of three duplexes in Ross River.
“To date, the demolitions are complete and the renovations are in process,” Massie wrote to the Star in an email Nov. 2.
Pressed for any information on the duplex build, Massie referred the Star to RRDC.
“When INAC funds a housing project, it is up to the recipient to manage the funding and the project,” he wrote Nov. 7.
“The recipient must report the results of the project to INAC once it is completed. The recipient decides if they would like to share details of the project with other organizations or the public.”
RRDC Chief Jack Caesar has declined multiple requests for information from the Star over the last several weeks, citing ongoing meetings about the duplex project.
Ross River has long been plagued with housing challenges. They prompted the chief to pen a letter to Yukon political leaders in October 2016, calling for help from the governments in Whitehorse and Ottawa.
Nearly half of the community’s 130 homes were unsafe to live in .
Sixteen others had to be abandoned due to their condition, his letter detailed.
Toxic mould, radon, petroleum and sewage were said to be found in homes throughout the village.
The still-campaigning, soon-to-be governing Liberals put out a statement in response to Caesar’s letter.
“The housing situation in Ross River has reached emergency proportions,” it reads. “A Yukon Liberal government will make this a priority early in its mandate as government of Yukon.”
It’s not clear when the Yukon government became involved in the duplex build in Ross River, but it came up in the legislature Nov. 9.
How much spent
Frost responded to a question from Yukon Party housing critic Wade Istchenko about what money, if any, the Liberals have spent on housing in Ross River – aside from six units of former Yukon government staff housing the government is making available to the RRDC.
Frost referenced “funding allocated from the federal government of $2 million for a project to build additional units in the community.”
The YHC has “stepped up to the plate” and started working with the RRDC, Frost said, to respond to what she went on to call “the current duplex projects that were started” and were not completed.
“Why? Because they ran into some challenges with a contractor out of Vancouver. That project had to cease and desist,” the minister told the house.
Frost said the YHC has been meeting with the RRDC to provide “some intervention” and with the contractor as well. At that point, she said, “we ran into a bit of a challenge.”
This contractor has not been named by the Yukon government, INAC, nor the RRDC.
However, a Vancouver-based company called AYO Smart Home has a page on its website dedicated to a Yukon construction project: three duplexes in Ross River.
“Construction is underway in Ross River! In April 2017, we began the construction of three duplexes for the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC),” the website reads.
“We are honoured to be building for RRDC as our first community project. Designs were made in consultation with Chief & Council and we are working to construct the homes with the help of local labour.
“Construction is nearing the lock up stage for all 3 duplexes and we’re excited to get them wrapped up and ready to move in!”
A call to the company’s listed phone number yields a “not in service” message.
The Star found AYO’s project engineer – the only employee listed on the company’s website – on LinkedIn and reached out for comment from AYO.
The engineer responded via LinkedIn message and said the company’s management has decided not to speak to the press at the moment.
However, he also noted that he has not been working with AYO for a couple of months.
“It disheartens me and it makes me sad that the contractors that come into these communities take advantage of the communities and they don’t work in good faith and we see failures,” Frost told the house Nov. 9.
“The failures result in communities suffering as a result of that misappropriation.
“What we’re doing right now is working with the Ross River Dena Council in securing a local contractor to look at the three duplexes and trying to ensure that we get those built as quickly as we can, in collaboration with our partners.”
It’s not clear what the current state of construction on the duplexes is.
However, Frost did tell the legislature that “the follow-through on that project is starting then from the foundation back up.”
On Wednesday, Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard asked the minister for further information on the duplex contract and any wrongdoing alluded to by her talk of “misappropriation” the week before.
“If the member opposite wants specific details on a project that the Ross River Dena Council has contracted out to the private sector, they can go to the Ross River Dena Council and get that specific information,” Frost responded.
She did confirm in the house last week, and again this week, that the Yukon government is providing advice and support to the RRDC.
The YHC is not, however, taking over responsibility for the duplexes.
As well, the Yukon government is not providing RRDC any financial resources to move forward with the project.
“Putting more money into the community is not going to address the problem,” she said Nov. 9.
Reporters pressed Frost for context on Thursday. She referred the media to the INAC regional office.
“We are there to help when we can. The responsibility really falls on the shoulders of the federal government,” she said.
Hassard is the MLA for Pelly-Nisutlin – the riding in which Ross River is located. He said his party was hoping to glean more details from the minister after she made comments about the duplex project in the house.
“Having this information would help me communicate and provide an update to my constituents. Unfortunately, the minister did not provide any more detail.”
On Wednesday, the Star’s request for more information from the Liberal cabinet was directed to the YHC.
The housing corporation, however, did not provide any of that information to the Star by press time this afternoon.