Yukon's new social housing policy works against the most vulnerable, critics say
Policy determines how new social housing units are allocated, starting with new 47-unit facility in Whitehorse
The Yukon government is adopting a new policy for allocating the territory's limited supply of social housing units, and critics say it discriminates against those in most desperate need.
"That's exactly what I'm concerned about, and what a lot of people in the Yukon are very concerned about," said NDP MLA Emily Tredger.
"I think they need to scrap this new system off the bat."
Yukon has long struggled to meet the demand for social housing. Hundreds of people are currently on the waiting list for units, and the wait for those on that list has gotten longer over the last decade. An auditor general's report last spring detailed the territory's persistent failure to meet the challenges of housing the most vulnerable.
According to the Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC), the new allocation policy is intended to fix some of those long-standing issues by creating more socially-diverse housing facilities and neighbourhoods, with more social supports tailored to the needs of tenants. The idea is that there will then be fewer evictions from social housing.
From points to streams
Under the old policy, new housing units were allocated using a points system, where points were determined by income level along with other factors — for example, if a person was fleeing domestic violence, or had mobility challenges.
"So the person with the highest points essentially would get the unit fastest," said Kristine Carruthers, acting director of tenancy supports at YHC.
Now, applicants will be divided among different streams, and units allocated to those different groups on a percentage basis. The majority of new units — 60 per cent — will be for people who struggle to afford housing. The rest will divided between people on the "By Name List" of those experiencing homelessness (20 per cent), and "priority" applicants (20 per cent), such as victims of domestic violence.
"We're really trying hard to focus on the person, and getting the information in advance of the tenancy so that we can properly set them up," Carruthers said.
In a letter to a territorial legislative committee in November, Kate Mechan of the Safe at Home Society — a non-profit advocacy group — said her organization initially supported a more "person-centred" approach to housing the vulnerable. But Mechan wrote that Safe at Home is now "adamantly opposed" to YHC's new tenant allocation policy.
"The most vulnerable Yukoners (i.e. survivors of violence and individuals who are currently homelessness) will receive less access to Yukon Housing units than in the previous model," Mechan wrote.
"At a time when we have 211 actively homeless individuals and families, 79 per cent of whom are survivors of violence and who are parents or guardians to 64 children, the tenant allocation policy is a move in the opposite direction of the [auditor general]'s recommendation to prioritize vulnerable Yukoners."
To Tredger, the new allocation system is "frankly discriminatory."
"We already know that [old] system was broken, but what they're replacing it with is also not going to work," Tredger said.
Kristina Craig of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition agreed that there were problems with how the old policy worked. But she shares some of the concerns about the new policy.
"There is a sense in the community, I think, that that non-market housing will be available to people who need it the most," Craig said.
"There are some real concerns around what this will mean for people who are needing housing."
Carruthers insists the new allocation policy is not discriminatory, and will not work against those groups considered "priority." She said it's intended to reflect the actual needs of vulnerable Yukoners.
"That is a quite a big number already, 40 per cent of our stock where we are really prioritizing homeless people or people fleeing violence. So I think that that is not discriminatory, that is just recognizing that we are still ... we're committed to continuing with prioritizing people who have additional needs," she said.
"I would say also, anybody that is coming to Yukon Housing does have a need of some kind. So I think it's really important to acknowledge that all people that are coming to Yukon Housing are vulnerable in their own right."
'Flagship' building in Whitehorse
Carruthers says Yukon Housing's newest residential complex in Whitehorse is the "flagship building" where the new allocation policy will be in effect.
"We are going to trial it. So the policy is written, it's signed, it's ready and we will be using it with that building first," she said.
The $21-million building, at 4th and Jeckell Streets in the city's downtown, has 47 units. Under the new allocation policy, nine of those units will go toward tenants identified on the By-Name List of people experiencing homelessness. Another nine will go toward the "priority" stream, and the rest to people whose main challenge is housing affordability.
"We really are relying on our partners and our tenants and data collection over the next year to see what our results are, to see if we're actually getting the intended outcomes," Carruthers said.
Meantime, those 47 new units in Whitehorse are still empty two weeks after government officials held a news conference to declare the new facility "open."
"We've done unit viewings there and people are just taking, you know, either some time to think about it, or we're still working with them in the process of the allocation," Carruthers said.
"I'm sure you can appreciate that making a big move such as that can take a lot of dedicated time for a person. Moving is a big job."