The city’s housing crisis continued to take centre stage at the Gold Rush Inn on Thursday evening as residents gathered for the second Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce all-candidates’ forum.
It followed Wednesday’s event, which featured all 20 of the prospective councillors.
Thursday’s event was a chance for the five mayoral candidates to address residents.
Candidate Kelly Suits did not show up. That left incumbent Mayor Dan Curtis along with challengers Wilf Carter, Rick Karp and Colin LaForme to address the crowd of about 50.
Issues like parking, transit and relationships with other governments, including the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, were raised.
Much of the discussion, however, focused on land use and the housing crunch the city is under.
LaForme was quick to highlight his goal to “stop the sprawl, go tall” with buildings in Whitehorse by changing bylaws to allow for increased height limits in the downtown area.
He pointed out that at current costs, homeownership is unattainable for most families, including those with two working adults.
The latest territorial government figures show the average price for a single-family home in Whitehorse was $461,900.
The city doesn’t have a huge role in development, LaForme noted. However, he advocated changing bylaws to allow for more homes in the downtown area and for a wider variety of housing types (community housing, tiny homes, for example) to expand the housing stock and options available to residents.
He also pointed out that having more residents in the city’s core or on major transit routes could lessen the traffic woes faced by the city and get more people taking the bus.
While LaForme focused on changing height limits to allow for greater density downtown, Karp put forward a particular areas where development could happen.
The site at Fifth Avenue and Rogers Street could provide about 350 housing units, he said, also noting that funding to fix up existing apartments should be made available.
Karp also suggested the possibility of looking at a joint venture to open up land near Long Lake.
The area would have space for 1,500 to 2,000 residents, he said. Through the joint venture, private contractors could be responsible for adding a bridge to the area – allowing for a second public vehicle access across the Yukon River.
Curtis highlighted the efforts currently underway to bring more lots online.
Those include the $1-million grant recently provided to the Challenge Disability Resource Group as it moves forward with its Cornerstone development near the top of Main Street.
It will feature 46 affordable and supportive housing units along with seven units on the top floor to be sold at market value.
Curtis also highlighted continued work in Whistle Bend. He acknowledging the need to look beyond that area for future development and the increase in permits issued for new buildings that will provide housing in the city.
Carter argued the city “has to be ready for the future,” and that there should be 200 lots available.
“The housing market is in a meltdown,” he said, after stating he would want to look at housing in the city and break down the data to solve the issue.
He also suggested federal funding could be available for housing initiatives. He argued the city should look at partnering with the federal and territorial governments to make the land the Municipal Services Building sit on available for housing after its planned closure.
Each candidate had a different approach to the housing issue. Each, however, agreed that the area described as Porter Creek D in the McIntyre Creek area should be left alone from development.
The mood of the meeting became more serious as one member of the audience tearfully asked how the candidates viewed the city’s most vulnerable residents, with Curtis getting up from his seat to give her a hug.
Karp spoke of an effort in Yellowknife that provides the community’s most vulnerable with a place to go – a “wet-house”, as he called it – that provides programming and help to those in need.
LaForme spoke of the need to come together to help one another.
Curtis highlighted efforts underway following the vulnerable people’s conference last year and the need to treat everyone with respect.
Carter argued the territorial and federal governments have to put more money into efforts to help.
There did not appear to be support from any of the candidates for the city’s bylaw department to use drones as part of its work on city trails, a suggestion that came out of a bylaw review.
As Curtis noted, it was one of many ideas in the report, with others more likely to be considered.
Others issues around parking saw arguments in favour of a modernized parking system that could take payment by credit/debit card or app.
The candidates also spoke of the importance of reconciliation with area First Nations and the need to work with governments on a variety of issues.
The four candidates cited their experience and commitment to improve their community, also stressing they want to be part of a team working toward a better city.
Karp ran in the 2012 election, while Carter was a candidate in the 2015 vote. Curtis is seeking a third term.
Voters go to the polls Oct. 18.
See related photo and letters.