Whitehorse Daily Star

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AWAITING INSPECTORS’ REPORTS – Pauline Frost, the minister of Health and Social Services and minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corp., expects inspectors will produce findings on the state of Ross River’s housing stock by the end of next week.

Governments want to inspect Ross River homes

The Yukon and federal governments will not provide emergency temporary homes to Ross River until they complete their own inspections of the community’s current housing stock.

By Sidney Cohen on January 5, 2017

The Yukon and federal governments will not provide emergency temporary homes to Ross River until they complete their own inspections of the community’s current housing stock.

This is despite an October 2016 plea from the chief of the Ross River Dena Council.

Pauline Frost, the minister of Health and Social Services and minster responsible for the Yukon Housing Corp., said today there are currently two Yukon government housing inspectors, one Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) inspector, and two Ross River project managers in the community gathering information on the state of existing homes.

“At the moment, it seems to me that it was a little premature for us to make any kind of decision on whether there’s emergency housing requirements,” Frost told the Star.

“We have a plan in place that might address that if there’s a need, but until we get the results from the inspections, (emergency temporary housing) is not something that we can respond to.”

Frost was in Ross River Wednesday with John Streicker, the minister of Community Services, and INAC representatives to discuss housing with the chief, council and members of the First Nation community.

Chief Jack Caesar of the Ross River Dena Council has called the housing situation in his community a “crisis.”

Frost suspects that the inspectors will produce some results by the end of next week, at which time the Yukon government and INAC will plan next steps.

“(INAC) really has jurisdiction; they’re the lead agency responsible for oversight,” said Frost.

“Our role as government of Yukon is really to play a role to ensure safety of the territorial residents and the residents of Ross River.”

In the lead-up to the Nov. 7, 2016 Yukon election, the Liberals vowed they would not shirk responsibility for housing in Ross River.

“These are Yukoners, and they’re living in Third World conditions,” said then-party spokesperson Valerie Royle.

A Yukon Liberal government would allocate money to housing in Ross River in its 2016-17 budget, she said.

Frost, however backpedalled today: “We’ve not committed anything,” she said.

“The federal government has contributed a significant amount of resources to the community, we want to make sure that it’s spent appropriately, that we provide guidance to them, and if there’s need for future funding, then we would work in collaboration with them to obtain the resources they need.”

INAC provided Ross River with $2.2 million for housing out of the 2016-17 federal budget, on top of annual core funding, spokesperson Rick Massie said in an email to the Star this morning.

The $2.2 million was for:

• Renovations to 10 homes;

• The demolition of abandoned homes and preparation for the construction of new band-owned homes; and

• The construction of three duplexes with three bedrooms in each unit;

• Interviews with community members on the housing situation and a demographics survey.

But according to a letter from Caesar, “these funds do not even come close to addressing the extent of the emergency in our community.”

During the election campaign, Caesar sent a letter to the four party leaders outlining the issues plaguing Ross River homes.

He called for immediate help to address the critical housing needs in his community. The letter was forwarded to local media by the Yukon Liberal Party.

“... Our housing is hurting our people who live in them,” said Caesar in the Oct. 22 letter. “Our RRDC (Ross River Dena Council) community housing is in an emergency crisis situation.”

The First Nation’s capital department recently completed an environmental contaminates study and a structural assessment of the homes in Ross River, Caesar said in the letter.

Results of the contaminants study showed that nearly half of the 130 homes had toxic levels of contaminants and were unsafe for occupation, or were in such a state of disrepair that they had been abandoned.

Twenty-seven homes that had families living in them had toxic mould or unhealthy levels of radon, petroleum, and/or sewage, said Caesar.

Sixteen homes were so damaged that they had been deserted.

Another 18 to 20 homes had toxic levels of contaminants, but could be saved by major renovations. Indeed, nearly all of the community’s homes are in need of repairs, said Caesar.

“This is a health and safety crisis for our people and RRDC (Ross River Dena Council) needs your help to address the immediate emergency and to help us solve our housing situation in the medium term,” wrote Caesar to the political leaders.

Specifically, he said, the community needs emergency temporary housing for 48 to 60 families before winter.

The chief made a number of other requests in his letter.

He asked that 20 to 40 homes be torn down and rebuilt, and for funds to train community members to do their own planning and renovations, among others.

Frost said the Liberal government wants to help build capacity in Ross River.

“We would commit to providing whatever supports are necessary, given that we have the expertise in-house and if they’re falling short on that, then we would lend that expertise,” she said.

The housing problems in Ross River are decades old and are in part the result of thawing permafrost under the community, a study has found.

A 2016 Yukon College study documented the effects of degrading permafrost on Ross River infrastructure.

It showed that highly valued public buildings, such as the school, community centre, pool and recreation centre, have a history of maintenance issues related to heaving permafrost.

Comments (18)

Up 1 Down 0

yukon56 on Jan 11, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Sixteen homes were so damaged that they had been deserted. Hmmmm, give some one something for free and it has no value and this cycle will be never ending.

Up 4 Down 18

DeneNacci on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Ross river people have a long established tenancy. The traditional lands are vast and contain what's required to survive the coming catastrophe. Prior to colonization and into the 1940 s there were many powerful medicine people in Ross and other Yukon communities. The spirit power of the Ross people is still there deep in the inner world. It will take some strong talented leadership to bring this potential to the surface. But that day will come and derelict housing and addiction will be a thing of the past. These people are already with us.

Up 29 Down 3

north_of_60 on Jan 9, 2017 at 8:05 pm

As long as a belief exists that maintenance and up-keep is someone else's responsibility, then the benefits of low-cost housing will be abused by some people. There are solutions but they require abandoning racist practices and policies and nobody seems to be interested in changing that entrenched bureaucracy.

Up 23 Down 4

Pro Brownie scientist on Jan 8, 2017 at 8:47 pm

The house is a symbol, dereliction is a personality issue, a family issue, a community issue. Free housing, owning, is a part of the solution, but not the most important.

Up 38 Down 3

ProScience Greenie on Jan 8, 2017 at 9:39 am

"the construction of new band-owned homes" - That might be a big part of the problem. Having an option to own a home outright might help.

Up 17 Down 9

Willard on Jan 7, 2017 at 9:16 pm

Great job Pauline, keep up the good work.

Up 52 Down 6

ben on Jan 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

The houses are damaged.........hmmm..........I wonder who could have damaged them?.....mysterious.

Up 59 Down 6

Lawrence on Jan 7, 2017 at 9:55 am

You simply can't "give" a home to anybody and expect they will have pride in ownership. If they didn't have to work for it and earn it and buy it and invest their own time, money, sweat equity, etc, they simply will not have any idea or will to look after the property. When it becomes to delapitated to be habitable, they will simply complain to the powers that be and receive alternative housing.

You see...receive alternative housing. Not work for a new place.
This just is not sustainable in its current incarnation.

And interestingly, this is one of the 14 Indian Bands that have not come to the table to sign off on self government. Hand out please. Well not even please...just hand out.

Up 45 Down 7

drum on Jan 6, 2017 at 10:16 pm

Good plan
Why should my tax money be given to a project that is not first checked. If the houses need to be updated or replaced I want to know that in the future they will be looked after and that my tax money will not be wasted.

Up 30 Down 11

Nile on Jan 6, 2017 at 6:37 pm

@BB a reasonable first step would have been for the Liberals to not promise things they have no intention of living up to. But people fall for it every election.

Up 34 Down 21

Lost in the Yukon on Jan 6, 2017 at 3:04 pm

The bigger issue is whether the Sunny Ways Silver Government will be any different than the Pharmacist Party. It would appear not ... when they wanted the votes from Ross River (people that John Strikeout now represents) they sure gave the impression that the Calvary was mounting up and just waiting for the word. Now that they got their votes ... they're saying what should have been said in the first place. It's all about ethics and in this case they have flunked ... and it is ironic that it was Val Royale, who the Pharmacist had forced out as DM in Education, was the Liberal Spokeperson during the election. I wonder what highly paid cushy job she has been awarded with.

Up 46 Down 12

BB on Jan 6, 2017 at 11:32 am

This is a completely reasonable first step. Glad to see politicians being responsible and doing their jobs instead of jumping in for a photo-op.

Up 68 Down 15

I moose101 on Jan 6, 2017 at 5:55 am

Give us all a break the members of band and community have brought this upon themselves . I know of maintenance people who went to a house in Ross River to address a no water complaint. Upon arrival and inspection at the house they found out that someone had removed the copper water pipes and sold them for scrap.

Up 67 Down 12

Rod on Jan 6, 2017 at 5:14 am

I'd give the person who runs this bands housing department a huge wage increase! Better yet let's let the government give these folks all new homes! Then in 10 more years we can do it all over again. I've owned my own house for the last 30 years. When something gets mouldy, I replace it. When something breaks, I fix it. It's called being responsible! It's ok we will just keep bailing them out!

Up 22 Down 46

Politico on Jan 6, 2017 at 1:34 am

No mater what the evidence, deny, obfuscate and deny. Then ask for another study. That way you can put off the obvious for as long as possible. The housing sucks so do something about it. There is a problem, how many times does the government have to study it till they admit there is an issue. Why are we electing these idiots!

Up 64 Down 12

jc on Jan 5, 2017 at 9:35 pm

For goodness sake, we can't just keep building them new homes every few years. Maybe it's time to spend taxpayers money on teaching these people how to look after their houses. And if they can't live in modern style houses, build them log cabins. And make them cut down their own trees. I did it years ago. It's not hard. And log cabins last for over a hundred years and easy to renovate. And $220,000 to renovate a house in Ross River? Give me a break. I would like to see some justification for that. Sounds to me like somebody is siphoning a bit of cream off the top. I wonder who that could be.

Up 31 Down 14

Joe on Jan 5, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Good plan. Obviously they will see the same results as every other study. Poorly built homes with little maintenance, overcrowded and unhealthy.

Up 28 Down 36

Nile on Jan 5, 2017 at 4:59 pm

And the Libs start backtracking already. The first of many broken promises.

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