Yukon government releases draft housing plan in response to scathing auditor general report
Housing advocates worry that draft plan lacks urgency for immediate housing needs
The Yukon Government unveiled a draft housing plan that focuses on affordable and transitional housing for vulnerable Yukoners.
It comes in response to a scathing report by the auditor general in May on the state of housing in the territory.
In an interview with CBC, Yukon Housing Minister Ranj Pillai said the most important part of the plan is coordination and data sharing between the Yukon Housing Corporation, the Department of Health and Social Services, municipalities and First Nations.
"Data is going to be … such a priority here," he said.
The draft plan responds to the auditor general's criticisms of the Yukon Government's "startling" lack of progress on bringing adequate and affordable housing to vulnerable Yukoners.
That audit focused on emergency shelters, transitional housing, supportive housing and social housing but did not look at the private rental market nor homeownership.
The Yukon government's response is similar in focus — and has advocates concerned about how effective the draft plan will be for the 210 individuals and families facing homelessness now and into the winter.
Kate Mechan, executive director for the Safe At Home Society, said she is "heartened" to hear organizations like hers will be invited to the table.
Mechan said the plan includes some tangible actions like reviewing the waitlist and coordinating access to housing, but she expected more detail on how the draft plan will end homelessness.
Affordable, private rental units most needed, Mechan says
She said the plan lacks urgency.
"It's a lot of planning and a lot of talk about coordination and collaboration, but how that's going to result in responding to the immediate need … it's not clear to me."
Safe At Home, which works closely with the Yukon Government, isn't mentioned explicitly in the report.
"It leaves me feeling a bit confused as to where the Safe at Home Plan fits, if at all, and I think it would be really helpful to clarify that."
Mechan said it's most urgent to get affordable private rental units online, which is challenging with the labour market and barriers to construction related to the stunted supply chain.
She said the government shouldn't underestimate the "desperation and the situation we're in as a community."
"I'm not really interested in reinventing wheels or doing planning for planning's sake," she said.
The Safe at Home Society, for example, has called for the Yukon government to protect tenants from eviction. Pillai said the government is looking at policies that balance the needs of both renters and property owners.
In the draft action plan, the Yukon Housing Corporation and Department of Health and Social Services agreed to sign a multi-year agreement by this fall that outlines their responsibilities and how they will work together.
The territory is set to put its plan before First Nations, Indigenous organizations, municipalities and both for and not-for-profit housing organizations to measure the territory's demand for housing and how to allocate existing stock.
The government is also set to consolidate its supportive and social housing lists, and hire a data analyst to evaluate the plan's progress, and publish quarterly reports on the state of housing. It says it will finalize its plan this fall and show it to the Office of the Auditor General by November.
The 2022 audit found that the waitlist for social housing in Yukon grew by 320 per cent in five years. Pillai said sharing data will help them "refocus" on the criteria for getting on the waitlist and figure out why it has grown so quickly.
"We're trying to understand, are they just brand new Yukoners that have … been here for six months and then they join the list? Are they people that have places to stay right now?"
Pillai said organizations like Safe At Home have told the Yukon government that people struggle to access housing because they cannot simultaneously earn income support and collect the rent supplement benefit.
The government said it plans, in the next two years, to review rent assessments for social assistance recipients, eligibility requirements for housing and to review how it prioritizes people based on need.
Pillai said when the audit came out, the government didn't want to be "defensive" even though many actions in the draft plan are already underway.
"This is something we had to listen and take the direction."
He pointed to recent housing projects that are improving housing stock, like a housing first project, the transfer of land to the Council of Yukon First Nations for their first Indigenous-led shelter and a 47-unit project, and the opening of the 45-unit Cornerstone Building.
On Tuesday, the government announced that 12 new affordable homes in the Copper Ridge neighbourhood of Whitehorse are completed and already fully rented.
He said the housing crisis can't be solved by the Yukon government alone, and that they are open to working with First Nations and the private sector to "de-risk" their proposed housing projects.