Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 3, 2014

Housing plans a long time coming: coalition

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition approves of the territorial government’s plan for more social housing.

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Bill Thomas

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition approves of the territorial government’s plan for more social housing.

Vulnerable Yukoners, however, are still being left in the cold with a lack of low-barrier accommodation and women’s shelter space, the group believes.

Bill Thomas, who co-chairs the non-profit organization, told the Star the $26-million project to build up to 10 lower-rent complexes across the territory meets a serious demand.

“The need for affordable rental housing is very substantial. There’s no question about that,” he said.

“There just hasn’t been enough of that housing or accommodation available to Yukoners.”

He said the latest plans for social housing — rental housing geared to income — cater to a specific demographic, but do not make up for years of ineffective policy.

“Overall, I wouldn’t give it a very high grade in terms of the last few years,” Thomas said. “There just hasn’t been a systematic, thorough determination to do something about this housing crisis.

“I think they’ve been kind of slow off the mark.”

Thomas also pointed out the lower pressure on the hospital emergency ward, police patrols and criminal prosecutions likely to result from better shelter for vulnerable slices of the community.

“Those savings that reduce the need for justice system involvement and reduce the need for hospital services are pretty substantial,” he said.

Thomas noted expected population increases in the territory, particularly Whitehorse, over the coming decade.

“I don’t see that pressure going away with respect to the challenge of having affordable housing of any kind in the Yukon.”

The Yukon Bureau of Statistics projects the population could hit 43,000 by 2021, up from around 36,000 in 2012.

To meet the expected upsurge in demand from singles and parents with low-wage or part-time employment, the government put out a call last year for lower-rent housing proposals.

The Yukon Housing Corp. (YHC) said last month it will select between two and 10 proposals for the communities and Whitehorse.

The government will put forward up to $13 million, matching dollar for dollar the builders’ construction costs.

“With this, we ensure that for the next decade, there’s going to be affordable rentals for people, and that’s one of the areas that we know is what people are struggling with,” Michael Hale, a YHC vice-president, said last week.

The selected submissions will result in houses and apartment units that would remain for rent at “affordable rates” for at least 10 years, Hale said.

The YHC has adopted the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s definition of “affordable.”

That means the rental rates must remain at or below 95 per cent of the median rate — $875 monthly for Whitehorse in September 2013, a record high. That compares with a housing allowance starting at around $540.

The contractors or NGOs behind the units — the government will have no ownership role— can eventually ratchet up the rental price or convert them into condos.

“The markets will determine what the owners could do with the units after the 10 years,” said cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman.

It’s too early to predict how many Yukoners will find homes under the plan, she said.

Thomas is skeptical.

“If the challenge isn’t going to go away for a while, the notion of giving back to the private sector, if you will, really doesn’t fit that trend very well, does it?” he asked.

“There will continue to be pressure on prices and pressure on the whole business of what’s affordable.”

He noted Whitehorse was no exception to the virtual rule of nation-wide housing woes.

Roughly 380,600 Canadian households live in poverty and spend more than 50 per cent of their income on rental housing, according to a 2013 study by the Toronto-based Wellesley Institute.

An estimated 30,000 people are homeless on any given night in Canada. As many as 50,000 people are considered “hidden homeless,” living with friends or family with no prospect of permanent housing.

Last October, the anti-poverty coalition joined with the Canadian Medical Association in calling on the federal government to implement a national anti-poverty strategy.

“A big, co-ordinated strategy could have a huge impact,” coalition organizer Kate Meechan said then.

Thomas said low-barrier shelters and supportive housing for the homeless — distinct from social housing — remain a key deficiency.

“They can’t participate in the economy. In other words, they can’t train for jobs, get good-paying jobs and get decent accommodation.

“If they can’t participate, for a variety of reasons, there’s just a need to have this supportive housing, and we’re going to have to address it.”

Kristina Craig, the coalition’s co-ordinator, said during the fall they were pleased to see a fledgling social inclusion and poverty reduction strategy in the works at the territorial level, “rather than these ad hoc responses to crises.”

Thomas too pointed to recent achievements — with qualifiers.

“I think they’ve been good in terms of senior housing. But even there, there’s a waiting list. No matter what group you look at there’s a waiting list.”

As of last fall, half of the 117 people on the Whitehorse Housing Authority waiting list were seniors.

A new $6.7-million seniors’ housing project on Alexander Street is expected to be complete by fall 2014, then-Housing minister Scott Kent said last summer.

The four-storey, 34-unit residence was the first seniors’ complex with design input from the YHC’s accessibility advisory committee — “formed to provide direction on how to build accommodations to better support seniors and people with mobility challenges,” according to a YHC release last summer.

Thomas also called for construction of a women’s shelter, citing statistics around gender-specific violence.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has said it has documented more than 600 cases of murdered and missing women since 2005, a number the RCMP cannot confirm.

“We’re a pretty well-off territory,” Thomas said. We have the second-highest average wages in the country. Our unemployment rate is under the national average. And we have resources.

“It’s just a question of allocating those resources effectively. so I think a lot can be done right across the spectrum,” he said.

“It’s a question of priorities.”

CommentsAdd a comment

yukon56

Jan 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm

What? No NDP comments???This must be perfect!!!Lets all get a subsidized house

Just Say'in

Jan 4, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Everyone speaks about no “Affordable Housing” when what they mean is subsidized housing, or free housing in many cases. Last I heard Yukon housing had close to seven hundred family units dispersed throughout the subdivisions in Whitehorse including country residential. Whitehorse housing has an inventory as well also there are 14 First Nations that are entirely subsidized housing. Lets not forget that big fancy apartment building for the doctors and nurses bringing the total inventory to in excess of 1200 units. The ones I feel for are not these people but the working poor who are too hard working and honest to take advantage of all of these hand outs. Go check out who is in the Food Bank line, you will be amazed. There are no means test requirements and many abuse the system. Drive away with food in their new pick-up. Yep!

Homeless in whitehorse

Jan 5, 2014 at 9:24 am

There are too many condos now around Whitehorse. Pay the contractors the money to convert the existing unsold units to low cost housing.

north of 60

Jan 5, 2014 at 8:29 pm

There is plenty of room for more 8-plex subsidized-housing units in Riverdale next to the ones they just built.  Schools are a short walk and there’s a neighborhood grocery store and transit service.

yukoner

Jan 6, 2014 at 2:27 pm

@north of 60 I would say yes there is more room there but as someone who lives in Riverdale I think there is enough people there already with all the traffic issues. what with only one way in and out. There are to many people already driving in the morning and evening for all the daycares that are running illegally. So I would say no not in Riverdale and this is not a nimby thing its a traffic issue.

north of 60

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

@yukoner

Low income housing people more likely use transit and walk.
Would you prefer to see them isolated in Wasteland Bend instead of living close to town in your neighborhood?

Josey Wales

Jan 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Gee…imagine we need more “social” housing eh? Let me guess, I’ve bleated on before how the epic fail of WB will be peppered with such housing.
And here I surface to say the same, to save face in the “crats” epic fail in the sewage gas/clear cut wasteland….soon you will see row after row after row of EXACTLY such housing.

I’d love to be proven wrong on said “vision” but I highly doubt it…time will tell.
Happy New Year…ya’ll

Yukoner

Jan 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm

@north of 60 - Well seems as you have such a big heart maybe they can all come live for free at your house. Like I said there is way too much traffic in and out of Riverdale. Are you really telling me the people that will get these places won’t drive? Give your head a shake. Like in most city’s, I don’t see why we can’t build big apartment buildings. But what are we really talking about here low rentals of more subsidized housing (FREE) ????

north of 60

Jan 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm

The only time “there is way too much traffic in and out of Riverdale ” is in the brief rush periods morning and evening.  Live with it or take the bus.

yukoner

Jan 8, 2014 at 2:19 pm

@ north of 60 I didn’t know you worked for the city planning department and you had the final say as to where these unit would be built. So you won’t be bringing in the homeless? I can feel the wind bag from here.

north of 60

Jan 8, 2014 at 6:49 pm

“yukoner—
@ north of 60 I didn’t know you”
That part’s true, so keep your unfounded opinions of others to yourself, and try to state your own views on the subject as clearly as you can.

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