Whitehorse social housing unit sits empty for months, despite waitlist
Yukon Housing Corporation says unit needs repairs and upgrades, but work has not started yet
One of the Yukon Government's social housing units in Whitehorse has been empty since at least May, despite a list of around 200 people waiting for affordable housing in the territory.
Concerned neighbours posted a photo of the house in Porter Creek on social media last month, and questioned why it had not been rented out yet, when the waiting list has doubled in the last year.
Meg Grudeski, housing coordinator for the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, says it's "very difficult for some people because they do require some sort of support assistance, and are left in this limbo space just because we don't have units available."
When first contacted by CBC, Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC) spokesperson Sarah Murray said the unit had not been rented due to hazardous materials. Documents obtained through an Access to Information request revealed there was asbestos in some of the flooring.
An internal government memo from Darren Stahl, YHC's director of capital development and maintenance, to Ben Yu Schott, vice-president of operations, states the property "has been the subject of many discussions during the past few years as it is in need of many repairs and upgrades."
Discussions began again in May, when Stahl invited another staff member to "go grab a coffee" and take a look at the property to figure out the scope of the project.
Only minor repairs have been done because tenants had lived in the house for the previous 11 years. Government staff recommended converting the single family home into a duplex.
Four months later, in September, a contractor was hired to perform a hazardous materials assessment.
On Oct. 10, Stahl alerted Yu Schott to a Facebook post about the vacant property, and media inquiries he'd received.
"I believe a decision on this unit needs to be made sooner rather than later," Stahl wrote.
Yu Schott agreed on the need to "decide and get cracking."
The housing corporation has not made a decision about the property yet.
YHC not adequately funded, MLA says
Kate White, the NDP MLA for Takhini-Kopper King, says she's long had concerns about the length of time social housing units sit empty before new tenants move in.
"It's hard to understand if you realize there are people who are possibly living in hotels, not living anywhere, or in unsuitable housing as they wait for a housing unit," she said.
White says the need for affordable housing is "huge."
"I would suggest the housing corporation is busy and they're pretty tapped out," said White. "It really comes down to whether it's a priority for government as to whether or not they're adequately funded to meet the demand. My suggestion would be — right now, they're not."
Yu Schott says it's not fair to suggest YHC is lacking resources.
He explained that YHC plans out the funding and properties it intends to renovate in advance. He said they didn't know the house in question was going to be vacated this year.
"When it's a significant financial cost like that, we may not have the funding set aside so we can tackle it immediately," Yu Schott said. "Once we have all the funding established and a good decision made, then we can proceed."
He says there's no precise timeline yet.
"We always do our best," he said. "We want to get people into our housing, at the same time we want people in our housing that is safe and appropriate."
He says newer buildings are generally back on the market quite quickly.
Yu Schott admits a number of YHC properties are older.
"We will have similar situations to this in the future," he said. "As part of our modernization of our housing stock, we'll be tackling these as we can."
Yu Schott says 18 out of 446 YHC units are currently under repair or vacant.