How Yukon’s booming economy and rapid population growth led to a housing crisis

It’s a common saying among locals that the Yukon is “Canada’s best kept secret” – a reference to the territory’s wilderness and welcoming culture. But it seems the secret is out.

According to 2021 Canadian census figures, the Yukon has led the country in population growth since 2016, growing 12.1% and increasing its population from 35,874 to 40,232.

Rapid population growth is amplifying an already long-standing housing shortage.

The housing crisis “affects everyone”

Originally from Manitoba, Marcus Schneider is currently looking to move to the Yukon, where he has the opportunity to train as a technician and auto mechanic and earn a higher salary than in his hometown of East Selkirk.

But Schneider, who is looking for a two-bedroom apartment, is struggling to find a place.

“I find a lot of places, especially in Whitehorse, that go for $2,400 a month without utilities and they go up to $3,500 for some places with garages,” he said.

This equates to around three-quarters of his monthly salary – “and that doesn’t even include utilities”, he added.

In recent years, house prices and rents have skyrocketed, bringing the median rent for two-bedroom apartments to around $1,300 according to 2021 databut many locals who spoke with CBC said the average price is actually around $2,000 right now.

Several recent online rental ads ask for around $2,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The Yukon Housing Corporation also conceded in an email that “actual market rent is often higher” than the median market rent.

the average sale price for a single-detached home in Whitehorse in November 2021 was $656,800, a record high and an increase of $87,800, or 15.4% year-over-year.

“I can say that probably over the last year…we’ve had more calls from people who are sort of on a high paying income. [jobs]not just minimum wage jobs…which also struggle to enter the housing market,” said Kate Mechan, executive director of the Safe At Home Society of Yukon, an organization that aims to end and prevent child abuse. homelessness in the Yukon.

“It affects everyone at every level,” Mechan added, including businesses.

Housing is indeed a priority for many Yukoners. In the three local elections in 2021 at the federal, territorial and municipal levels, this was a central issue.

A 2021 report of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) found housing affordability to be a serious challenge in the Yukon, particularly in Whitehorse, where “market options are out of reach for some households without financial assistance” .

In fact, the report found that nearly 20% of all Whitehorse households could not obtain market housing without some form of assistance in 2019.

Young people, the elderly and single-parent families have particular difficulty finding adequate, suitable and affordable housing.

As of December 2021, there were 443 people on the waiting list for housing in Whitehorse, according to the Yukon Housing Corporation, a sharp increase from 2016, when there were 114 clients on the list.

Homelessness is also a growing problem.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic…some Yukoners have faced housing challenges due to lost or reduced income,” the Yukon Housing Corporation said in an emailed statement.

Booming economy, natural beauty attracting people

Recent migrants, municipal and territorial government officials and local real estate agents all agree that abundant employment opportunities, natural beauty and a strong sense of community draw people to the Yukon.

“We see a lot of people leaving from other provinces … coming here in search of deurbanization,” Whitehorse real estate agent Marc Perreault told Radio-Canada in French.

“The other reasons are…there are good job opportunities.”

The Yukon has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 3.3%, and is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada where GDP grew from 2019 to 2020.

Yukon Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai told Radio-Canada that the territory’s economy has been growing for the past five years, so much so that it has been difficult to find enough people to fill all job openings. ‘use.

“It’s hard to keep up with the demand,” said Laura Cabott, Mayor of Whitehorse. “We need nurses, we need teachers, we need doctors, we need people working in the mining industry.”

Ranj Pillai, Yukon Economic Development Minister, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse in September 2021. Pillai, who is also responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, says the territory needs workers, but that housing supply has not yet caught up. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

Jeremy Hetherington, who moved to Whitehorse from Grimsby, Ont., in March 2020 for an airline job, said he made the move “because I can see the Northern Lights and I can drive without having to to worry about six lanes of traffic.”

He was fired from his job in Whitehorse two days after starting due to the pandemic, but found a new job as a restaurant manager so he could stay on permanently after ‘falling in love’ with the lifestyle .

“The first time I saw the Northern Lights I cried,” Hetherington said.

He calls himself an “outdoors guy” and loves the accessibility of hunting, fishing and camping.

The Yukon is known for its pristine wilderness, rugged landscapes and scenic views. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Riley Coppicus moved to Whitehorse from Manitoba in 2018 for similar reasons, but he’s struggling to make ends meet now that he’s starting a family.

“You really need extra income when you live up north here because it’s so expensive,” said Coppicus, who is trying to save enough money for a down payment on a house.

“Housing is about Vancouver prices, if not maybe higher if you take into account … the cost of heating.”

This has led many newcomers and locals to find creative ways to stay housed, including embracing life in vans or yurts.

According to real estate agent Marc Perreault, part of the problem is the growing wage gap between government employees and those working in the private sector.

“Growth in the public sector is a big deal, making the base pay much higher, driving up house prices,” he said.

Property development cannot keep up with demand

The Yukon has built more housing than ever before, but it still isn’t meeting the demand.

CMHC’s 2021 report found that new housing construction in Whitehorse more than doubled in 2020 to 478 units from the 230 units started in 2019, well above the five- and ten-year averages for new housing starts in the city.

The city issued a record number of resident unit permits in 2021 – 590 of them. Between 2016 and 2021, 2,431 permits were issued.

These beautiful Northern Lights were captured in Takhini North, Yukon. “The first time I saw the Northern Lights I cried,” said Jeremy Hetherington, who moved to the territory from Ontario two years ago. (Submitted by Eng Khoon Chua)

But Perreault says development isn’t moving fast enough.

“It’s a difficult environment to develop because of mountains, rocks, water and other environmental factors,” he said. “So there are limits to what can be developed quite quickly.”

Conversely, the lack of affordable housing limits economic growth, especially in communities outside of Whitehorse.

This is the case in Carmacks, Yukon, where Mayor Lee Bodie says the housing shortage is seriously hurting the local economy and the municipality’s ability to attract and retain staff.

“I run a large grocery store and we did a $1 million renovation 10 years ago, and we still can’t open the lower level to the public because we don’t have the staff to run that section,” said Bodie said. “There is no place to put people.”

Bodie currently houses some of the store’s staff in his own three-bedroom house.

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