Housing in the Yukon – A State of Emergency

By Canada Without Poverty and CWP Advocacy Network Board Member for the Yukon, Reanna Sutton.

Whitehorse is a beautiful northern city, home to about 26,000 people (census 2006). The unemployment rate is among the lowest in Canada at 7.2% (Yukon Bureau of Statistics, 2010). There is a mining boom and the economy is exploding. This is bringing a lot of people to the Yukon which is creating a dire need for more housing.

A state of emergency

Concern over the housing crisis in the Yukon has been raised by many people and organizations for the past several years. As prices for homes skyrocket (average house price in 2005 was $190,000 and in 2010 the average was $368,000), affordable housing remains severely lacking and the vacancy rate of rental units is at less than 0.6%.  A single person on social assistance receives $501/ month for housing. A bachelor suite begins at about $600/ month and even the seediest hotels in Whitehorse charge $850/ month for rent.

There are affordable housing programs in the Yukon – Yukon Housing has over 140 people on its waitlist and Grey Mountain Housing has 80 First Nation families on theirs. The three hostels in Whitehorse are usually full and the Salvation Army shelter – which has 10 beds – is full every night with people overflowing into the soup kitchen area.  These people are forced to sleep in plastic lawn chairs. Now that the summer is here, there are a few more outdoor options, but hotels are kicking out people who were housed there for the winter so as to make room for the huge influx of tourists. The summer options available for homeless people are the campgrounds close to the city core. Robert Service Campground is full throughout the summer – they charge $400/ mo for a camp site. Any other campground requires a vehicle to access.  On May 17th, 2011 the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and its partners submitted a press release declaring a housing emergency in the city of Whitehorse and putting a call out to the Yukon Government, City of Whitehorse, Ta’an Kwachan First Nation and Kwanlin Dun First Nation to take immediate action in solving the crisis.

What we know

In 2010 the Yukon Government released the ‘Whitehorse Housing Adequacy Study’ in which they aimed to address the gap in the lack of statistics for homelessness and the housing challenges in the Whitehorse area. The study’s intention was to provide evidence based data to assist in Territorial Government and Nonprofit Agency planning. What was found was that the following groups are more likely to be homeless: First Nations people, single people, youth, respondents who were not single parents and those who made less than $20,000/year.

In 2008, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition formed the Housing Task force in response to the housing crisis. In February 2011 the 50 person committee released ‘A Home for Everyone: A Housing Action Plan for Whitehorse’. Their housing strategy is based on information gathered by all areas of the community through using participatory engagement techniques. The Action Plan stresses the importance of using more collaborative approaches, improved communication, public awareness, leadership and specific action across the housing spectrum.

Over the past 4 years a number of research reports and studies have been released in order to document social issues in Yukon ranging in scope from poverty and social exclusion to women’s homelessness, mental wellness in Yukon First Nations people, care for acutely intoxicated people, and housing. A list of these reports with links to the full documents can be found at the end of this blog entry.

Each one of these reports point to the extreme need for housing of all sorts – supportive housing, emergency shelter, affordable housing etc. There are several new subdivisions currently under development but nothing is being put aside for affordable safe housing for low income Yukoners.


Jim Kenyon, former cabinet minister who was recently fired by Premier Dennis Fentie, disclosed that the Territorial Government withheld 17.5 million dollars in housing money which was specifically intended to be used for safe adequate housing projects for lower income Yukoners . This announcement was made shortly after the Yukon Party anticipated a 38 million dollar surplus for last fiscal year.  It is not as though this money could not have been used – there are more than a few social housing project proposals that have been brought forth over the past year. Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition wants to build a 20-unit facility to house Yukon’s hardcore, homeless alcoholics; a recent report entitled ‘Task Force on the Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk’ calls for the government to build a homeless shelter with an attached detox unit; there is a huge need for a youth shelter, construction of supplementary units in a semi-supported housing complex for adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and availability of more affordable rental units. There is no excuse for the government to repeatedly turn down social housing proposals when they have 17.5 million dollars available specifically for affordable housing from the federal government Northern Strategy Trust fund. It is an outrage and simply downright criminal that the government is withholding this money in order to create the illusion of a surplus just so they look good. Hopefully the callous disregard for our city’s less fortunate will be kept in mind when Yukon voters go to the polls this fall.

Further reading:

A Little Kindness Would Go a Long Way – A Study of Women’s Homelessness in the Yukon – (2007) Yukon Status of Women Council

Yukon First Nation Mental Wellness Workbook (2010) (only available with permission through the Council of Yukon First Nations)

Dimensions of Social Inclusion and Exclusion (2011) Health and Social Services, Yukon Government

Bridges and Barriers: Yukon Experiences with Poverty, Social Inclusion and Exclusion (2011) (still in draft form) Health and Social Services, Yukon Government

‘Tent city’ protest at the Yukon Govt Legislature