Yukon NDP questions housing partnership between territory and Ontario

A construction site in Ontario. The agreement between Ontario and Yukon aims to encourage more housing development in both jurisdictions. (Erik White/CBC - image credit)
A construction site in Ontario. The agreement between Ontario and Yukon aims to encourage more housing development in both jurisdictions. (Erik White/CBC - image credit)

Yukon's NDP party wants more details on the territorial government's recent housing partnership with the province of Ontario.

Earlier this month, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai signed a memorandum of understanding with his Ontario counterpart Doug Ford. The territory and province agreed to share best practices on housing development, and the Yukon will introduce private Ontario investors to developers in the territory.

Pillai has said a big part of the agreement is making sure Yukon builders and developers have money to build long-term housing options, like apartment and multi-residential buildings.

"We don't see that money in the Yukon right now. Investors in Yukon have tended to build things and sell them right away," Pillai told media on May 2 after signing the memorandum.

"What we've seen in the Yukon over the last number of years is lots of condos being built, or houses … And that doesn't necessarily help us with our challenges when it comes to the rental market."

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

As Yukon's housing and rental prices have climbed in past years, a recent report from the territory's Bureau of Statistics found one in six Yukoners are paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. That's the common benchmark used to define affordable housing.

But Yukon NDP Leader Kate White says she wants more details on the partnership.

In a news release last Tuesday, her party asked the Liberal government to share the contents of the memorandum with the public. The government shared it with media the day it was signed, but posted it online the Tuesday afternoon after the NDP release.

Mike Rudyk/CBC
Mike Rudyk/CBC

White said Yukoners should know more about why the government entered this partnership.

"Why does [the] Yukon government have a role to play in connecting private Ontario-based businesses and organizations to Yukon landowners, construction companies and housing innovators?" she asked in an interview. "I just have a lot of questions."

White said Ford's government has a poor track record when it comes to housing.

She noted controversial regulations the government passed last fall that dropped developer fees and environmental protections around Ontario's greenbelt in order to allow for the construction of up to 50,000 new houses.

"It seems like an odd place for Yukon to go looking for housing advice," White said.

Ontario has been dealing with high housing prices for over a decade. House prices in the Greater Toronto Area are second only to Vancouver, according to the latest numbers from the Canadian Real Estate Association.

Dr. Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at Western University, has studied Ontario's housing market extensively. He said Ontario's governments, including those preceding Ford's, have a mixed record on housing.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Moffatt said the province understands the need to increase housing stock, but hasn't accomplished much so far. For instance, he said the province has failed to implement more than a third of the 55 recommendations its housing affordability task force made in a report the government commissioned. The recommendations looked at how the government could rein in housing prices.

"It's tough for me to say how (the memorandum) is going to be helpful for the Yukon," he said in a phone interview. "Because [Ontario is] kind of the worst-case scenario, you know?"

Moffatt said the Yukon government would also likely have to find a way to incentivize Ontario investors to spend their money in Yukon through things like tax credits. However, he said if Yukon can attract investors, it could make a big difference.

Moffatt added that social and affordable housing, along with private investment and development, will have to be a part of any solution to the housing crisis.

"Both in the territory and the province here, we absolutely need more rental housing," he said. "We need more capital …so if provinces and territories can work together to accelerate investments, then yeah, that's a fantastic thing."

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Yukon's cabinet said the memorandum is just one approach to "help meet the growing demands on the Yukon's housing market."

"Addressing the Yukon's housing needs will require investment across the housing spectrum, including both affordable housing and market housing, and fostering partnerships within the territory and outside it," they stated.

"Ontario is home to communities large and small, including rural and remote communities, and we appreciate the opportunity to explore what may be relevant to the Yukon context."

The memorandum between Ontario and Yukon is non-binding. Barring renewal, it expires in 2025.