Yukon Cares having tough time finding housing for 2 incoming refugee families

The last time Yukon Cares sponsored a refugee family coming to Whitehorse was about 18 months ago. 'The prices [for housing] have gone up, but also there's just incredibly low availability.'

Rental prices have 'nearly doubled' since last time the non-profit sought housing for a family

Downtown Whitehorse and the Riverdale neighbourhood across the river. Yukon Cares, an organization that sponsors refugee families, said it is having a difficult time finding accommodation in the city for two incoming families. (CBC)

As it gets set to welcome and support two refugee families expected to arrive in Whitehorse by September, Yukon Cares is having a difficult time finding housing for them in Whitehorse.

"We've been [sponsoring refugee families] since 2015 and I have never seen anything like this," said board member Kirsten Bradley. "The prices have gone up, but also there's just incredibly low availability."

The last time the non-profit organization rented a house for a refugee family was about 18 months ago, according to Bradley.

"[Back then], a three-bedroom house would have been about $1800, maybe $1,850," she said, adding that now, she's seen some in the $3,000 to $3,500 range.

"So yeah, it's nearly doubled," she said.

Bradley added it's the biggest challenge facing the organization as it gets set to welcome the two families.

'Decided to rent as soon as we can'

One family is a father and his eight-year-old son, originally from Pakistan, while the other one is a family of six from Eritrea that includes a mother, father and four children aged two to 13.

Bradley said the budget Yukon Cares has for the family of two is $1,200 a month for rent, while for the family of six, it's $2,200 for rent, with more for utilities for both families.

Yukon Cares will pay for the first year of rent. Part of their support to families includes teaching the members of the refugee families how to care for and maintain a Canadian home, including things like a furnace, dishwasher or other items they may not be familiar with.

Bradley added that Yukon Cares will receive 10 to 15 days' notice from the federal government before the families will arrive.

"So we've decided to rent as soon as we can find somewhere suitable simply because there is so little to rent," she said.

Two families

Typically, Yukon Cares welcomes one refugee family at a time – it has sponsored five families since it was established in 2015 – but unpredictable immigration approvals combined with complications associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has meant there'll be two families arriving this year.

The organization applied to sponsor one of the families years ago and it was delayed.

Bradley said Yukon Cares believed it would be another year until that family would be approved so the organization applied to sponsor another family that was ready to travel.

"So we were approved for the second family first … and then we suddenly found out that the first family we applied for, I don't know why it was expedited, but they've been approved and they're ready for travel as well," she explained.

Written by Michel Proulx with files from Elyn Jones and Sissi De Flaviis