Question re: Affordable housing - December 18, 2014

Mr. Silver: I began this sitting with a call for the resignation of the minister responsible for the Housing Corporation over the mishandling of $17 million of affordable housing money. That was echoed, of course, only a few days later by the City of Whitehorse.

Again this week, there has been renewed criticism from the Chamber of Commerce and housing advocates over this government’s mismanagement plan to spend some of the money on energy-efficiency rebates.

When the minister went back to the drawing board this spring, after cancelling plans for affordable housing units, he said, “Stay tuned.” Yukoners are still waiting. I’ll give the minister an opportunity to explain the motion that he tabled here today. Does the government actually plan to spend any of the remaining funding on affordable housing?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: We see the mischaracterizations and entirely political attacks coming from the Leader of the Liberal Party. I would remind the member that, again on this area, in fact, as identified in the motion I tabled, I hosted a consultation jointly with the chair and president of Yukon Housing Corporation to share with the community advisory committee of the housing action plan and several stakeholder organizations — including representatives of the Association of Yukon Communities, including representatives of the two chambers of commerce, the residential landlord association, the Yukon realtors association, and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition — where we identified options to them of the areas we were considering using additional northern housing trust money for — as well as consulting with them on the new investment in affordable housing agreement that I signed with Minister Bergen this summer.

We provided them with options, which we sought their feedback on. We received feedback at that meeting and received some additional feedback afterwards, and that feedback is being given careful consideration by Yukon Housing Corporation board and staff, as well as by the Government of Yukon. We have already acted in one of those areas that was recommended to us by several stakeholders, including the chambers of commerce, which was the initiative announced by my colleague, the Minister for Energy, Mines and Resources. That is one of the things that we heard from stakeholders and we acted in that area.

Mr. Silver: What we do know is that the government has been spending this money on anything but affordable housing.

We know, for example, it recently spent $850,000 to purchase land downtown for a new Salvation Army on Alexander Street. Again, all these projects are great, but it’s not affordable housing. The criteria for what this money can be spent on seem to be changing every day.

Here is another idea that I would like to throw into the mix, Mr. Speaker. The Dawson daycare has completed a feasibility study for a new building. It would include affordable housing units for staff who are not highly paid. The plan would — as they say — kill two birds with one stone. It would provide much-needed affordable housing and provide daycare with a much-needed building to operate in.

It’s the 35th anniversary of the Dawson Daycare Society. Will the government consider spending some of the remaining money on this project?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: Investments in daycares would not meet the criteria of the program, but again I would note that we sought feedback from stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce. From the letter that the chamber sent us, they specifically said, “We also support option four and believe that programs that encourage improved energy efficiency in homes will lead to more affordable housing rates over the long term.”

They were one of the stakeholders that supported programs, like my colleague, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, announced this week, and they supported it being used out of the northern housing trust, because that was one of the options we were consulting on. Again, we have acted in a number of areas. Contrary to the member’s assertion, this funding was not specifically required for affordable housing and that is why we have used it for areas including: investment in the Salvation Army; investment in Betty’s Haven second-stage housing project; $300,000 as well to support Habitat for Humanity; investments in housing in Carcross and Carmacks; and, most recently, the energy-efficiency program.

The total amounts remaining in this fund, contrary to the member’s attempts to paint it as a massive fund — most of the money was initially given — more than initially given. It was given and kept with First Nations for their housing priorities. $32.5 million was used for that purpose. We have used the remaining amount for purposes, including social housing and the recent announcement this week.

Mr. Silver: Let me get this straight, Mr. Speaker. New windows for anybody fit the criteria but affordable housing for Dawson daycare workers doesn’t.

I’m trying to do a favour for the minister here. This money has been burning a hole in his pocket for several years and he can’t seem to spend it. I’m also trying to help out a daycare in my community. We know the government has thrown the doors wide open on what it wants to spend affordable housing dollars on. This proposal that I’m asking for today actually would see the money go toward affordable housing.

It’s the 35th anniversary of the daycare. Its current building has a leaky roof with water literally coming in through the lighting fixtures. The floor needs replacing; they have had no renovations done in the last decade. When staff from this government visited the facility, they had to keep their coats on. This is a need. They need a new building and that new building could have affordable housing units in it for their staff and for anybody else who needs it in the community.

Give us a Christmas present here, minister. Will the government please consider this proposal?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: Mr. Speaker, I would point out that that is not one of the things we’ve heard from the municipality of Dawson City. That is not something we’ve heard from stakeholder organizations.

In answer to the member’s off-mic heckling, I in fact have not only talked to the Mayor of Dawson about affordable housing, we have talked on a number of occasions about it — and the perspectives of both Dawson City and other communities. In fact, we look forward to additional work with those communities in addressing options.

In responding specifically to the needs and requests of Dawson City, one of the things we did at the request of Mayor Potoroka and his council was that Yukon Housing Corporation released lots that were held by Yukon Housing Corporation for sale, which was a specific request we had received from the City of Dawson. Again in this area, we will continue to make investments. In social housing, we will continue to listen to the input from stakeholders. While there is a diversity of opinion between those stakeholders, we will work with the board and staff of Yukon Housing Corporation to come up with additional solid investments — all of which I’m sure the member will vote against, as he has voted against every dollar that has been invested in Dawson City.

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member that we have made unprecedented investments in housing — over $100 million in investments, in social and seniors housing, since 2008 and that includes $53 million directly from Canada’s economic action plan —