Ross River took a gamble on a housing contractor, and lost
Community now tearing down half-finished, 'unsafe' duplexes after builder skipped town
A project to bring some much-needed housing to Ross River, Yukon, has apparently gone off the rails, with the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) cancelling a construction contract for some duplexes and tearing down the partially-built and "structurally unsound and unsafe" units.
The First Nation says it hired a Vancouver-based company called AYO Smart Home Ltd. to build three new energy efficient, mold-resistant duplexes, with money provided for the project by the federal government.
Now, the First Nation says that company is insolvent, and the work it left behind is a mess.
"At this point in time, we have three partially-constructed buildings which have to be torn down," said the RRDC's lawyer, Jim Tucker.
"You could actually — I actually did — stand inside the building and look up and you could see blue sky," he said.
"The one aspect of each of three duplexes that actually works is the foundation."
Promised to build quickly, and on budget
The project began when RRDC secured $1,679,000 from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to build the duplexes. The First Nation says it then received a proposal from AYO to construct the units, relatively quickly and on budget. It also promised energy-efficient units that might make money for the community, by actually providing power back to the grid.
Work began, and it was originally promised to be done by last March — but that deadline came and went.
AYO asked for an eight-month extension, according to RRDC, and then last summer asked for another $700,000 to finish the work.
At the same time, the First Nation noticed that AYO's work looked a little different from the original plans.
"RRDC began to be concerned that the duplexes being constructed by AYO might not be suitable for the climate in Ross River, or even safe," says a statement from the First Nation.
RRDC, working with INAC and the Yukon Housing Corporation, then hired an engineering firm to inspect the units. The First Nation says it also told AYO what was happening.
In September, the engineers arrived in Ross River, along with Tucker.
AYO had skipped town.
"The day when we arrived, it was apparent that the day before our arrival, the builder abandoned the project and basically left Ross River. So construction had stopped at that point in time," Tucker said.
AYO had already been paid about $793,000, according to Tucker.
'They're just not safe'
The engineers then confirmed the units had "a number of structural defects," Tucker said. "They're just not safe."
The First Nation says it has also heard from subcontractors, saying they had not been paid by AYO.
Now, the RRDC has hired a new contractor to demolish the shoddy construction, and "recover the project," Tucker said.
The First Nation is determined to finish the duplex project, but it's not clear now how long that will take. Tucker says RRDC also plans to sue AYO, to recover what was paid.
"By our calculations RRDC has paid AYO $793,000 to get three duplexes that have to be torn down, I think we want $793,000," said Tucker.
RRDC is also hoping the federal government will chip in more money to rebuild the units.
The whole thing is a setback, Ross River Chief Jack Caesar says.
"We're very short on housing to house the members, and there's a lot of homeless people within our small community," he said.
CBC has tried to contact Vancouver-based AYO Smart Home by phone and email, but has not received a reply.
A website and Facebook page apparently connected with the company are both now inactive. A LinkedIn profile for AYO Smart Home, meanwhile, describes the company being focused on housing for "communities with limited access to resources and funds."
"AYO Smart Home steers from the status quo to provide quality, healthy homes at affordable prices," it reads.
With files from Dave Croft