The ministers responsible for housing in the Yukon vowed to do better in light of a scathing report that found little progress has been made since 2010 to fix long-standing issues affecting housing programs and services in the territory.
The report, conducted by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) of Canada and released on Wednesday, found that the Yukon Housing Corp. and the Department of Health and Social Services have not provided adequate and affordable housing for Yukoners in greatest need.
“The two organizations did not work together or with their housing partners to effectively manage housing for those who need it most,” said Deputy Auditor General Andrew Hayes, who was in Whitehorse to deliver the report to the Yukon Legislature.
The report, which did not include home ownership or the private rental market, includes nine recommendations.
Ranj Pillai, the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corp., and Tracy-Anne McPhee, the minister of health and social services, said they accepted each of the report’s recommendations.
The OAG had conducted a Yukon housing audit in 2010 in which it also made several recommendations, which were also all accepted by the government at that time.
Hayes said that while plans were made, action was not taken by the territorial government after that 2010 audit, and long-standing issues were not addressed.
“That was startling to me,” said Hayes.
Growing wait list for social housing
The OAG’s latest report found that between 2015 and 2021, the waiting list for applicants who are eligible for social housing in Yukon grew by 320 per cent.
“With that kind of increase, it’s important for the corporation and the department to have a look at the needs of the population that they serve, to identify ways to adjust their housing supply, to meet the needs of the vulnerable newcomers,” said Hayes.
The waiting list for community housing in Yukon has also been growing steadily in recent years, particularly in Whitehorse.
According to the most recent annual report from Yukon Housing, there were 114 Yukoners on the waiting list for community housing in 2016-17, with 96 of them in Whitehorse. The number had ballooned to 325 people by 2020-21, with 274 of them in the capital.
The new audit report also found that the average time for those waiting for housing went from 12 months in 2014 to 17 months in 2021.
The auditors also found that it took twice as long to provide homes for individuals from priority groups, such as victims of violence, than for people from non-priority groups.
Hayes said that shows the corporation’s prioritization system isn’t working.
“That means that the corporation needs to review and modify their prioritization system so that it meets the needs of those that are most vulnerable,” he said, adding the territory hasn’t updated its priority groups since 2007.
Pillai said the corporation will take a close look at the prioritization system.
“It may need to be scrapped,” he said. “And if that needs to happen, it’ll happen.”
Pillai said that in light of the report’s findings, trust will have to be built with Yukoners.
“Action is what is going to build that trust,” he said.
McPhee said they’re adopting a “one-government approach” to improve their systems.
Both ministers signed a memorandum of agreement in which they said the corporation and the department will be accountable to achieve objectives.
Pillai said the work to modernize the housing system and make it more effective has already begun.
He cited the Housing First residence in downtown Whitehorse, which provides immediate access to housing for vulnerable people, as one of the new ways the government is supporting people who need housing.
He added the corporation will fully launch its new community housing framework this summer, which will include reviewing how tenants are determined, and implementing a new tenant selection policy.
Pillai said work will resume immediately on the corporation’s integrated housing strategy which will provide a clear understanding of the challenges, the gaps and the needs of Yukoners “with respect to government supports for housing.”
He also said Yukon Housing will look to improve its software system to manage and report on major and emergency repairs in its units.