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Yukon Territories

Yukon officials aim for ‘transformational change’ in social housing system

Yukon housing officials faced a Legislative Committee Tuesday and vowed to solve problems that have plagued the public housing system for years.

“We must continue to improve our systems to better understand our housing waitlist, the needs of our customers, the needs of the community and the overall housing environment,” said Justin Ferbey, who was named president of Yukon Housing Corporation last month.

“Through this enhanced understanding and renewed partnerships, transformational change will come.”

Tuesday’s hearing before the Standing Committee on Public Finances focused on a damning report by Canada’s National Accounts Office released last spring. This report looked at housing programs in the area and found that the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Department of Health and Human Services had not done enough to provide decent and affordable housing to those most in need.

The report did not deal with the private rental market or home ownership.

Glenn Wheeler of the Office of the Auditor General spoke about the report at Tuesday’s committee hearing, describing how little progress had been made over the past decade to address “long-standing problems” affecting housing programs and services.

Glenn Wheeler of the Office of the Auditor General, here in 2021. Wheeler addressed a Legislative Committee on Tuesday about the “long-standing problems” plaguing the Yukon public housing system. (CBC)

Among those problems is a skyrocketing public housing waiting list as demand consistently outstripped supply. The waiting list grew by 320 percent between 2015 and 2021.

The auditors also found that it took almost twice as long to provide homes for people from priority groups, such as victims of violence, than for people from non-priority groups.

“Transforming programs and services to provide housing for vulnerable Yukoners requires the [Yukon Housing] joint-stock company and the [Social Services] Department to work together, and with their partners. This did not happen and those with the greatest housing needs suffered the consequences,” Wheeler said.

The Auditor General’s report contained nine recommendations for improving the system, and the Yukon government accepted all of these recommendations. In December, the area presented a detailed work plan “to guide improvements in meeting core housing needs for the Yukon’s most vulnerable individuals.”

The plan commits Housing Corporation and the Department of Social Services to a multi-year MOU to work together to “formalize collaboration and coordination to improve access and resolve issues.”

Ed van Randen, Deputy Secretary of State for Social Services, said Tuesday the Auditor General’s report revealed “some hard truths”.

“Since I started this job a year ago, I’ve said many times that the department can do better, and I know our team is committed to continuing to work hard to be better and address the housing issues that are affecting them.” we are facing,” said van Randen.

“I know the audit indicated that … we had plans and strategies around housing that we didn’t always implement. I mean, it’s a new day for me and for Justin [Ferbey]. And I think we’re committed to transparency and want these plans to be something that we’ll be pursuing for years to come.”

A changing waiting list

The Legislative Committee heard on Tuesday that as of January 19 there were 276 households on the social housing waiting list – and also heard that this is an incomplete picture.

In recent years, Yukon Housing Corporation has waived the requirement for applicants to file an annual tax assessment with Canada’s Internal Revenue Service to be on the waitlist. This requirement has now been reinstated, but more than 200 people have yet to submit their NOAs.

The Yukon Housing Corporation office in Whitehorse in 2017. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

That has led to a “significant reduction in the waiting list,” Ferbey said Tuesday — 46 percent since August — because those names were removed.

“To date, only two of the 208 removed have submitted the required documentation…we have asked them to resubmit their NOA. So they would end up having to reapply.”

NDP MLA Emily Tredger, who sat on Tuesday’s committee, questioned whether it was difficult to contact or trace people affected by homelessness.

“Also, when you have many, many other challenges with your life situation, the stress of filing an application is not negligible,” Tredger said.

NDP MLA Emily Tredger, seen here in the Legislative Assembly last year, questioned the need for public housing applicants to reapply to remain on the waiting list. (Yukon government)

Kristine Carruthers, director of the housing association, acknowledged those potential obstacles but said filing a NOA was simply “part of the process”.

“It is very clearly documented that this is a requirement. We’re also working with our partners to make sure they know we’re doing this,” Carruthers said.

Housing officials also said they have no numbers to illustrate current demand for assisted living, transitional housing or emergency shelter. Nor do they have a reliable method of predicting how the need for social housing will increase in the coming years.

“We submit that our model forecasts need approval. That’s one of our priority themes for the coming year,” Ferbey said.

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