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2 decades after mine closed, Faro looks to demolish or sell abandoned houses

Faro, Yukon, was once a bustling mining community, but two decades after the mine shut down, there's a surplus of abandoned and decaying buildings.

Yukon town says empty housing units are an eyesore and a danger

Faro, once a bustling mining community, now has a surplus of abandoned buildings. The town has decided it's time to deal with them. (Ian Dunlop)

In its 1970s heyday, Faro, Yukon, was a vibrant young town, boasting a recreation centre and curling rink, a brand new school, a department store, a fancy hotel, even a movie theatre.

Homes were filled with workers from the town's massive lead-zinc mine — families with kids, pets and noise.

Then the mine closed. 

Now, two decades later, the town has a surplus of abandoned buildings — weathered and mouldy, with broken windows — and the local council has decided it's time to deal with them.

'Council wants to move, before they become a real hazard to the community,' said town CAO Ian Dunlop. (Submitted by Ian Dunlop)

The problem isn't  a surprise — after all, it's what you'd expect when a mining town loses its reason for being.

Faro's chief administrative officer, Ian Dunlop, spent last winter assessing the situation and preparing a report. The town made that document public earlier this week.

Dunlop says there are a total of 37 abandoned properties, with 170 individual housing units. There's a slew of four-plexes and six-plexes, even a couple of 12-plex units.

"These buildings haven't been used now in nearly 20 years. [They're] without heat and electricity, so they're not getting any better with age," Dunlop said.

"That's why this council wants to move, before they become a real hazard to the community." 

The town wants to assume formal ownership of the properties, write off the tax arrears, and either demolish or entice people to buy and renovate the units. (Ian Dunlop)

Half the buildings to be torn down

There's also an estimated $3 million in outstanding taxes, though Dunlop doesn't expect to collect. The buildings were owned by the now-defunct Faro Real Estate Ltd. 

Instead, the town wants to assume formal ownership of the properties, write off the tax arrears, and either demolish or entice people to buy and renovate the units.

"We've identified that probably half of the buildings will need to be torn down," said Dunlop. 

Then, the town must decide what to put into its landfill and what to salvage.

Either way, Dunlop said, demolishing or rehabilitating the buildings will come with a hefty bill.

And that's where the Yukon government comes in.

A real 'handyman special'. The town estimates that about half the abandoned buildings will be torn down. (Ian Dunlop)

Incentives to renovate

The town wants the government to form a "community development team", with representatives from both the community services and economic development departments, as well as Faro town officials.

"That's part of what we want the community development team to start looking at, is if we do need assistance, for example with the cost of demolition of some of the properties," Dunlop said.

"The other side of that is offering potential new homeowners incentives to renovate the properties. We do have [the government's] assurance that we will have their support in moving forward." 

Dunlop admits that finding buyers for the remaining units, even with big renovation incentives, may be tough. 

Faro is remote (Whitehorse is a five hour drive away), has only 400 residents, and scant services. 

But Dunlop said leaving the buildings to decay further isn't an option — the town is liable for the dilapidated buildings, even if it doesn't own them.

About 400 people currently live in Faro, which is about a five hour drive from Whitehorse. (Ian Dunlop)

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