Whitehorse Daily Star

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Yukon Party MLA Yvonne Clarke and NDP MLA Lane Tredger

Liberals’ performance on housing development under fire

Both opposition parties attacked the government’s record on housing yet again this week, albeit from two entirely different angles.

By Mark Page on November 16, 2023

Revised - Both opposition parties attacked the government’s record on housing yet again this week, albeit from two entirely different angles.

The Yukon Party is saying the government is not doing enough to encourage residential housing development.

Meanwhile, the NDP is saying the government is not doing enough to help promote affordable home ownership.

“Stats released last week show that residential construction is down 7.8 per cent compared to last year,” Yukon Party MLA Yvonne Clarke told the House Tuesday.

The NDP attacked the issue from another side, saying the government is not doing enough to provide affordable housing through home ownership programs.

“With high interest rates and the skyrocketing cost of living, many people are giving up hope of ever being able to save for a down payment and qualify for a mortgage,” NDP MLA Lane Tredger said Wednesday in the legislature.

Clarke’s focus on residential construction is based on her view that the government is not releasing enough residential building lots.

The number Clarke is using to back up this point comes from a report on the value of building permits issued so far this year, providing comparisons to previous years.

But if actual investments in building construction is used as a measure instead, it shows that so far this year, 19.3 per cent more money has been spent on residential construction in the Yukon than by this time last year.

Misha Donohoe, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Statistics, explained in an email to the Star why the investment number is a better measure.

Investment in building construction reports the actual amount of money spent on residential building construction in a year for single-detached homes, duplexes, apartments and row houses.

The value of building permits, on the other hand, doesn’t just represent construction of new units in a given year, but includes renovations as well as new builds.

Donohoe also said building permits could be issued more than a year before construction begins and can lapse or be changed over time.

Government House Leader MLA John Streicker commented in response to Clarke that much of the construction industry is subject to market forces, much of which the government does not control.

“There are ebbs and flows in the construction market,” he said. “I think some of that has to do with the nature of what’s happening with interest rates at the moment.”

Clarke used the building permit number as evidence the government needs to get more building lots out.

“The biggest choke point for housing construction has been the lack of residential lots in the City of Whitehorse,” Clarke said, adding that only 240 lots have been released since the last election in 2021.

She said this falls short of the government’s own targets.

In response to this, Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn gave his own version of these numbers.

“Our government has, to date, delivered 807 lots since 2016 in Whitehorse and in rural communities for residential, commercial, and industrial development,” Mostyn said.

“We are on track to deliver 1,000 lots over five years, by fiscal year 2025-26, just like we promised.”

The NDP gave a different perspective on the housing issue the next day, with Tredger saying the lot development issue fails to address housing affordability.

“This government seems to think that developing lots is all they have to do to address the housing crisis, but most of these lots become large, expensive houses that are unaffordable to most people — particularly to those entering the housing market for the first time,” Tredger said.

They also detailed some issues with the Home Ownership Loan Program, which is intended to get mortgages for people who have been denied by the banks.

Tredger said this program is vastly undersubscribed, and people who apply have to go through a rigorous process to get the loans – with most ending up getting denied anyway.

“Before they could apply, each person had to line up a house and a seller who was willing to wait for them to get approved by Yukon Housing,” Tredger said.

“Then they had to go to a bank and get denied for a mortgage. Then and only then could they finally apply to the home ownership program, only to be denied and have the entire deal fall through.”

Tredger pointed out that so far 39 out of 40 applicants have been denied by this program.

The Yukon Housing Corporation’s Julie Ménard corrected this, saying there were actually 39 total applications and only one approval.

Of these, 25 were denied and all of the rest were eventually cancelled or withdrawn, including the one that was approved.

“The primary reason applications were denied is related to applicants’ high household debt levels that places them at risk of loan default,” Ménard said. “We encourage individuals interested in applying to the Home Ownership Loan Program to reach out to the program team prior to applying.”

Premier Ranj Pillai is responsible for the YHC, but was out sick on Tuesday and Wednesday, so Streicker provided a response to Tredger in the legislature.

“Our government is committed to improving home ownership options and availability,” Streicker said.

But Tredger said the low uptake of this program shows a failure on the government’s part to actually support affordable home ownership.

“It is hard to say that program is supporting people when 39 of the 40 applications were denied,” they said.

Comments (1)

Up 33 Down 3

Joe on Nov 16, 2023 at 3:03 pm

NDP just talk cheap. Do something about it and walk away from your unelected coalition.

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