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A first for an election priority

September 2011
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The election has been called for a week now and I have to admit that the professed priority of three of the parties encourages me. A poll done before the election indicated that the major issue resonating with Yukoners is housing.

We have a huge shortage of housing, particularly attainable housing, in the territory. There is little incentive to rent and the vacancy rate in the territory is about 1.2%. Supply and demand has led to extremely high housing prices (the average home sale in Whitehorse from the Statistics Department in the last quarter was about $425,000). Home sale numbers are slow and new construction has concentrated on condos, selling at about $400/sq.ft. With an average income, finding a house you can actually afford is difficult (remember that most banks use a maximum of 38% Total Debt to Service Ratio, which means that you won’t get mortgage unless you have enough income that your mortgage payment is 38% or less of your income. To buy a $450,000 house over 25 years means you need a combined family income of about $7,500 per month. Needless to say, if you work at Tim Horton’s or in a daycare, odds are you will never own a house. Given the rental rates, you may find that you simply don’t have a roof over your head at all and this explains why many people live in wall tents in the woods on the other side of the river.

Calls for improvement to the situation first came from the Territorial NDP party that held a meeting on dealing with the situation two months before the election was called. They have pushed for having Crown Land within the city turned into low income housing development. They and the Liberal Party support this, as well as  Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition’s $1.8-million plan to build 20 units of housing for homeless people in the city. The Yukon Party has also approached the housing problem with proposing to increase the number of beds at the Salvation Army,  and create a new youth shelter and designating Crown Land for affordable housing. However, considering that the previous Yukon Party government received about $18 million in two years in federal Northern Housing Trust and did not spend it and transferred other low income housing money to a First Nation to be used to buy hotels owned by a cabinet minister, I’m afraid I don’t hold much hopes for any of the Yukon Party’s housing promises coming to fruition.

That being said, it is safe to hope that someone, unless we have a return of government, will deal with a serious problem. Homelessness here is not reserved for people without jobs. And, quite frankly, any candidate running who doesn’t believe that safe housing is a human right, should not be permitted to run. Ask your candidates when they come to your door what they believe on this issue and then, be prepared to hold them to it. To paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein, any society that does not make it its first priority to defend its weakest citizens does not deserve to exist…

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