“There is no excuse except to act urgently”
The Safe at Home Society has released 10 Calls to Action in response to the serious homelessness crisis in Whitehorse.
The group held a community lunchtime barbecue Tuesday at Rotary Peace Park to unveil the 10 calls, which include a ban on evictions without cause.
They detail various actions that can be taken by the community and all levels of government to address what society 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 society’s chief executive officer.
“Coordination between all levels of government is needed to solve this problem; this is evidenced by the fact that we do not explicitly mention the names of a particular government department or agency responsible for implementing the recommendations.
The Whitehorse By-Name List is a real-time tool the company uses to prioritize and match people to homes.
Data from the tool indicates that there were 206 local households and 64 children actively homeless in July.
“This steady increase in the number of people actively experiencing homelessness is concerning,” Mechan added.
“With winter approaching, there’s no excuse but to act with urgency and compassion, and these 10 actions are a start to reducing pressure on our homeless support system.”
Here are the company’s 10 calls to action, as explained in its own words:
1. Prohibit evictions without cause under Yukon’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
The Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that allows evictions without cause – landlords can evict tenants without cause – even in winter.
With evictions without cause, even tenants who have signed one-year leases can be told they have to vacate the premises with only a few months notice.
In the context of the current housing crisis, a few months are not enough for people to find another permanent residence.
Additionally, evictions without cause provide a loophole around the residential rent index.
Landlords can evict existing tenants and then raise the rent above the rental cap before new tenants.
The law must be revised immediately to prohibit the ability of landlords to issue evictions without cause. This would provide protection for tenants and greater stability in their housing.
2. Expand rent supplement programs to include individuals and families receiving income support and housing allowances.
For example, the Canada-Yukon Housing Benefit administered by the Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC) is a rental subsidy available to Yukoners on fixed or low to moderate incomes.
This benefit is currently not available to those receiving income assistance.
Recognizing that income support rates are far below what is needed to access housing in the current market, expanding eligibility for housing allowance or introducing a rent supplement program comparable would help those who need it most.
This appeal is in line with the recommendation of the Auditor General of Canada’s recent report on SHY, which advised the company to review its eligibility for housing allowance.
Enabling those on income support to access shelter allowance is already done in other Canadian jurisdictions such as Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.
3. Create a buddy program for post-secondary students and seniors who have more space in their homes.
Yukon residents and students who come to Whitehorse to attend Yukon University have difficulty finding affordable housing during and after their term.
Students are at high risk of homelessness, especially during the summer or immediately after graduation. At the same time, many seniors in our community 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 type of program has proven successful in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Kingston, Ontario.
4. More frequent reports from YHC describing data related to vacancies and company unit entries and exits.
Although YHC is required to publish an annual report, it provides minimal detail on current rentals and progress toward its goals.
For example, the report does not provide information on the number of people who have been housed in the past year; how many people were expelled and for what reason; how many units are empty on an annual basis; and the turnover rate per building.
Social and community housing providers in other jurisdictions, including those operated by Crown corporations like SHY, provide this level of detail in their reports.
More frequent and detailed reporting would increase transparency and accountability, and allow the CSJ to make data-based decisions and help determine where to target supports and resources.
5. Mandate the creation of a register of landlords to improve transparency in the rental market.
Landlord registries are becoming more common in other parts of Canada to provide the public with important information when looking for rentals.
A register can include information such as how much rent landlords are asking for and have already charged for their units, how many units they have, and any complaints filed against them.
Having a publicly accessible landlord registry in Whitehorse would help bring more transparency to the local rental market and could be managed either through the Residential Tenancies Office or through a newly formed.
There could be an option for landlords to take a course on their responsibilities and tenant rights which earns them accreditation on the register. A registry could also be used to determine eligibility for incentives for landlords who maintain highly affordable housing.
6. Regulate short-term and vacation rentals across the city.
Short-term or vacation rentals (STRs), such as those from Airbnb, continue to grow in popularity in Whitehorse.
There are concerns that some of these STRs are commercial developments that effectively drive potential long-term rental housing off the market.
The most recent analysis revealed that in April 2019 there were 186 STRs in the city. Of these, about 44 were units that could have provided long-term rentals.
That’s significant when compared to Whitehorse’s vacancy rate, which as of October 2021 was 2.3%, or 52 vacant units out of a total housing stock of 2,248 units.
The conversion of all STRs that could potentially have been converted to long-term rentals from October 2019 would bring the vacancy rate in October 2021 from 2.3% to 4.3%, an increase of 87%.
The City of Whitehorse has already considered the need to regulate STRs, but this issue should be reconsidered in light of the current housing crisis.
seven. Increase transparency related to the housing shortage for out-of-territory employee recruitment strategies.
As Yukon’s population continues to grow at a rapid rate, employers have a responsibility to inform potential hires outside the territory of the housing crisis and lack of housing options.
Having newly recruited employees show up in the Yukon to find out how difficult it is to find housing puts a strain on local resources and supports.
By being transparent from the start, employers can help ensure that new hires make an informed decision about their move and start exploring housing options early.
8. Increase the financial resources and supports people need to deal with bed bug infestations.
Bed bugs are endemic to the Yukon. Infestations cause discomfort and reduced quality of life, and lead to discrimination and often expulsion.
Since these parasites are transient and mobile, they can be difficult to eliminate. Professional treatment is often needed to eradicate infestations.
For the elderly and those with mobility issues and other barriers, preparing for bed bug treatment can be difficult.
If their accommodation is not properly prepared and treated, they risk eviction.
Additional community supports are needed to help those who need help preparing their units and providing bed bug prevention education.
9. Establish and fund a Yukon tenant association.
Tenants in several Canadian jurisdictions have joined forces to form tenant associations.
These associations provide space for tenants to share ideas and experiences about their rental accommodation for advocacy and action.
They provide a counterbalance to homeowner associations and can be a venue for workshops, programming and peer support.
There is strength in numbers. The formation of a local tenants association would provide tenants with a means to advocate to ensure that their right to housing is respected.
- Ban evictions related to arrears and eliminate entry requirements into debt-free housing for people on income assistance or fixed incomes.
Rent arrears, also known as unpaid rent or damage charges incurred in a previous tenancy, are a serious barrier for individuals and families on income support or fixed incomes to access social housing .
There is no expiration for arrears, and federal and territorial sources of income support will rarely help cover these costs. This means that arrears from many years ago can prevent someone from accessing housing today.
Homeless people are forced to seek funds from non-profit organizations or find other sources of income to pay arrears before being housed.
The learning experience of debt, damages, and poor budgeting should not be a barrier to housing.
Since housing is a human right, the inability to pay arrears should not prevent people from accessing housing.