Here's how to help working class Yukoners find affordable housing

Yukon's minister responsible for housing has long been accused of failing to understand the difference between Housing First and affordable housing. 

Housing First is an approach to tackling homelessness by rapidly housing people, and providing support to them in their homes. One principle of Housing First affirms the right to housing without the condition of sobriety. 

Affordable housing is simply defined as creating housing options that cost less than 30 per cent of a household's pre-tax income.

Minister Pauline Frost reaffirmed this knowledge gap when she retweeted my deeply personal essay, which details my experience of poverty and homelessness, to promote her "commitment to bringing Housing First to Yukon." 

I am — and likely always will be — lower working class and, like many who do not make a government salary in this city, I have struggled to find housing I can afford. When I interviewed Frost's department in late 2018 to discuss the housing issue for Vice, I had been homeless or housing insecure for two years. I wouldn't find stable housing for another seven months. 

The minister will have to forgive me, then, if I take umbrage at having my work used for political ends it doesn't represent. 

The Housing First project her department launched this week is commendable, but absolutely doesn't help working class Yukoners obtain affordable housing, nor does it acknowledge the link between the working poor and housing insecurity.

I don't think this is because Frost doesn't care; she simply lacks a working-class perspective. 

So: here are five things the Yukon government can do to ease the housing crisis for the working class. 

Create a living wage

At the minimum wage — $12.71 an hour — a person has to work about 87 hours a week (more than two full work weeks) to pay for a one bedroom costing $1,100 a month before utilities; more than two 40-hour work weeks, or over half their total monthly pre-tax income of approximately $2,030.

A living wage in Yukon is $19.07 an hour, with housing affordability a prime concern, according to the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition

Stronger protections for renters

Under the Yukon Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, there's no cap on how much your landlord can increase rent after the first year of your lease. They can raise your rent as much as they like (once a year), and you either pay up or leave. Don't think that happens? I have a friend dealing with this very issue right now. 

Restrict AirBnB

Every unit devoted to AirBnB is a unit that could be housing for a Yukoner; those who can afford property get richer, and those who cannot are squeezed even tighter by the reduced rental market.

Many housing-strapped cities have imposed restrictions and Yukon should too. 

Build up

Whitehorse has long favoured building out instead of up — Whistle Bend being the poster-child for this — with NIMBY homeowners resisting building multi-storied units in downtown neighbourhoods. 

Mike Rudyk/CBC

The working class need affordable, centralized housing, and it doesn't matter if it changes the neighbourhood. Aesthetics don't house people.

Municipal and territorial governments need the power — and the will — to create housing which serves everyone, not just those who can afford to buy. 

Improve social services 

Creating housing that people can afford isn't just about brick-and-mortar buildings; it's about the infrastructure supporting it.

Investing in better public transit, subsidized daycare and diverse mental health services create supports which help working class people stay employed, stay housed and contribute to the economy. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.