There is no excuse but to act with urgency – Whitehorse Star

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The Safe at Home Society has released 10 Calls to Action in response to the serious homelessness crisis in Whitehorse.

By Whitehorse Star on August 10, 2022

The Safe at Home Society has released 10 Calls to Action in response to the serious homelessness crisis in Whitehorse.

The group hosted a community barbecue at lunchtime Tuesday at Rotary Peace Park to unveil the 10 calls, which include outlawing no-cause evictions.

They detail various actions that can be taken by the community and all levels of government to address what the soceity calls the desperate need to keep Yukoners housed and out of homelessness.

Solving the homelessness crisis and ensuring that all Yukoners can stay housed once they have access to safe and appropriate housing requires a whole community approach, said Kate Mechan, the societys executive director.

Co-ordination across all levels of government is necessary to address this issue; this is highlighted by the fact that we dont explicitly mention the names of any particular government department or agency that is responsible for fulfilling the recommendations.

The Whitehorse By-Name List is a real-time tool the society uses to prioritize and match people to housing.

The tools data say there were 206 local households and 64 children actively experiencing homelessness as of July.

This steady increase in numbers of people actively experiencing homelessness is concerning, Mechan added.

With winter around the corner, there is no excuse but to act with urgency and compassion, and these 10 actions are a start to reduce pressures on our homelessness support system.

Here are societys 10 calls to action, as explained in its own words:

1. Prohibit no-cause evictions under the Yukons Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

The Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that allows no-cause evictions landlords can evict tenants without cause even in the winter.

With no-cause evictions, even tenants who have signed year-long leases can be told they need to vacate with only a couple months notice.

In the context of the current housing crisis, a couple of months are not enough time for people to find another permanent residence.

In addition, no-cause evictions provide a loophole around the residential rent index.

Landlords can evict existing tenants, then raise the rent above the rental cap in advance of incoming tenants.

The act needs immediate revision to prohibit the ability for landlords to issue no-cause evictions. That would ensure tenants are protected and have more stability in their housing.

2. Expand rent supplement programs to include individuals and families receiving income support and housing benefits.

As an example, the Canada-Yukon Housing Benefit administered by Yukon Housing Corp. (YHC) is a rent subsidy available to Yukoners on a fixed income or earning low to moderate incomes.

This benefit is currently unavailable to those receiving income support.

Recognizing that income support rates are far below whats required to access housing in the current market, expanding the eligibility for the housing benefit or introducing a comparable rent supplement program would help those who need it the most.

This call aligns with the recommendation from the recent Auditor General of Canadas report on the YHC, which advised the corporation to review its eligibility for the Housing Benefit.

Allowing those receiving income support to access the Housing Benefit is already done in other Canadian jurisdictions such as Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.

3. Create a matching program for post-secondary students and seniors who have extra space in their homes.

Yukon residents and students coming to Whitehorse to attend Yukon University have a challenging time finding affordable accommodation during and after their terms.

Students are at high risk for homelessness, particularly during the summer or immediately post-education. At the same time, there are many seniors in our community who have extra space in their homes.

Through a careful matching process, the safe pairing of students and seniors can create a mutually beneficial living situation.

There is a national model in place through Canada HomeShare. This kind of program has been shown to work well in such cities as Vancouver, Toronto and Kingston, Ont.

4. More frequent reports from the YHC outlining data related to unit vacancies and inflows and outflows from the corporations units.

Although the YHC is required to publish an annual report, it provides minimal detail about current tenancies and about what progress has been made toward its goals.

For example, the report fails to provide information regarding how many people have been housed in the past year; how many people have been evicted and for what cause; how many units are empty on a yearly basis; and the turnover rate per building.

Social and community housing providers in other jurisdictions, including those operated by Crown corporations like the YHC, provide this level of detail in their reporting.

More frequent and detailed reporting would increase transparency and accountability, and would enable the YHC to make data-driven decisions and help identify where to target supports and resources.

5. Mandate the creation of a landlord registry to improve transparency across the rental market.

Landlord registries are becoming increasingly common in other parts of Canada to provide the public with important information as they search for rentals.

A registry can include information such as the amount of rent landlords charge and have previously charged for their units, the number of units they have, and any complaints filed against them.

Having a publicly available registry of landlords in Whitehorse would help bring more transparency to the local rental market and could either be operated through the Residential Tenancies Office or through a newly-formed tenants association.

There could be an option for landlords to complete a course about their responsibilities and tenants rights that earns them a credential on the registry. A registry could also be used to determine eligibility for incentives targeted at landlords who maintain deeply affordable housing.

6. Regulate short-term and vacation rentals across the city.

Short-term or vacation rentals (STRs), such as Airbnbs, continue to grow in popularity in Whitehorse.

There is concern that some of these STRs are commercial developments that are effectively removing potential long-term rental units from the market.

The most recent analysis found that as of April 2019, there were 186 STRs in the city. Of them, approximately 44 were units that could have provided long-term rentals.

This is significant when compared to Whitehorses vacancy rate, which, as of October 2021, was 2.3 per cent, or 52 vacant units out of a total housing stock of 2,248 units.

Converting all STRs that could have been potentially converted into long-term rentals as of October 2019 would bring the vacancy rate in October 2021 from 2.3 per cent to 4.3 per cent an 87 per cent increase.

The City of Whitehorse has previously looked into the need for regulations to STRs, but this issue should be revisited in light of the current housing crisis.

7. Increase transparency related to the housing shortages for out-of-territory employee recruitment strategies.

As the Yukons population continues to grow at a rapid pace, employers bear a responsibility to inform potential out-of-territory hires about the housing crisis and lack of housing options.

Having newly-recruited employees show up in the Yukon only to discover how challenging it is to secure housing strains local resources and supports.

By being transparent from the get-go, employers can help ensure new recruits make an informed decision about relocating and start exploring housing options early.

8. Increase the financial resources and supports that people need to deal with bed bug infestations.

Bed bugs are endemic to Yukon. Infestations result in discomfort and reduced quality of life, and lead to discrimination and often times eviction.

As these pests are transitory and mobile, they can be hard to get rid of. Professional treatment is often required to eradicate infestations.

For seniors and those living with mobility challenges and other barriers, it can be difficult to prepare for bed bug treatment.

If their unit is not prepared and treated properly, they risk eviction.

Additional community supports are required to assist those who need help preparing their units and providing education about bed bug prevention.

9. Establish and resource a Yukon Tenants Association.

Tenants in many Canadian jurisdictions have joined forces to form tenants associations.

These associations provide a space for tenants to share ideas and experiences about their rental housing for the purpose of advocacy, and action.

They offer a counter-balance to landlord associations and can be a site for workshops, programming, and peer support.

There is strength in numbers. The formation of a local tenants association would provide an avenue for tenants to advocate to ensure their right to housing is being upheld.

10. Ban evictions related to arrears and eliminate debt-free entry requirements into housing for individuals on income support or a fixed income.

Rental arrears, also known as unpaid rent or damage fees incurred in a past tenancy, are a serious barrier for individuals and families on income support or a fixed income to access social housing.

There is no expiration for arrears, and federal and territorial income support sources will rarely help cover these costs. This means that arrears from many years ago can prevent someone from accessing housing today.

Those experiencing homelessness are forced to seek out funding from non-profit organizations or find alternate sources of income to pay arrears prior to being housed.

The learning experience related to debt, damages, and poor budgeting need not be a barrier to housing.

In recognition that housing is a human right, the inability to pay off arrears should not prevent people from accessing housing.

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There is no excuse but to act with urgency - Whitehorse Star

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