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September 01 2021

Whitehorse city council votes in favour of downtown supportive housing project

City council pushed forward a funding application for 55 units at the High Country Inn

Julien Gignac · CBC News · Posted: Aug 31, 2021 6:27 PM CT | Last Updated: August 31


Safe at Home Society Executive Director Kate Mechan speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on Aug. 24, 2021. Safe at Home wants to convert the High Country Inn into a space for supportive housing. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

A supportive housing project in downtown Whitehorse is inching closer to reality.

The City of Whitehorse is endorsing a plan to take over the High Country Inn and create 55 permanent supportive housing units in that building.

City council voted unanimously in favour of the proposal during a special meeting on Monday night.

"I'm going to support it," said Councillor Laura Cabott during the meeting. "I don't think the city should be getting in the way of this. In fact, I think we should be partners in it." 


The vote means the city, which is working with the Safe at Home Society, will apply for $5 million in funding under the cities stream of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Rapid Housing Initiative, which is designed to increase stable housing stock across the country.

According to an administrative report by the city, the hotel will be sold for roughly $10 million. Renovations to the building will cost upward of $5 million.

Funding won't come from the city's coffers. Beyond the federal government, the Yukon Housing Corporation is applying for funding to cover the rest.

According to Kate Mechan, the executive director of Safe at Home, it could take upward of 60 days for a decision to be made.

"Now is the time for bold vision and an innovative vision, and I've heard loud and clear in the over 10 years that I've been living here and doing this work, that the community has been asking for somebody to step up with in partnership and build capacity and present exciting opportunities and solutions to ending homelessness," she told city council during the special meeting.

"We were in a housing crisis before the pandemic," she said. "The pandemic has only heightened that need."

Whitehorse point-in-time count finds 151 people experiencing homelessness on one night

Youth component

The project proposes a priority system. Roughly 75 per cent would be Indigenous people and 50 per cent would be women. There would also be spaces for youth.

"Most exciting is the 16 units we're reserving for youth," Mechan told CBC News, adding that on-site support workers would also be present. "This will mark the first ever permanent supportive housing options for youth in the community."

"What we know from local data here is that youth in particular, there are no housing focus supports for youth," she said. "Youth homelessness is hidden here."

If successful, the project will help spur a new hotel 

Northern Vision Development (NVD) owns the High Country Inn and has been working with Safe at Home to develop its proposal. 

Michael Hale, president and chief operating officer at NVD, told CBC the potential sale dovetails with plans to build a new hotel at the end of Main St. near the Best Western Gold Rush Inn. The convention centre is not being sold, Hale clarified. 

"We agreed that if they were going to create affordable, supportive housing for at-risk Yukoners then we would agree to sell them the High Country at about half a million less than the last appraised value," he said.

"If you're a government or a business or an NGO in the Yukon, those issues are important to you and important to the community in which we do investments."