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Census suggests nearly 20% of NWT homes need major repairs

Housing in disrepair
Illustration: Jane Taylor for Cabin Radio

Almost one in every five NWT homes needs major repairs, a figure that’s closer to one in three for the Dehcho and Tłı̨chǫ regions, new census data suggests.

Figures from the 2021 census were published last week by the NWT Bureau of Statistics. Of 15,205 households in the territory, 2,805 were found by the census to need major repairs.

Statistics Canada considers the term “major repairs” to include plumbing or wiring defects or the need for structural repairs to the walls, floors or ceilings.

The figure is a slight increase on the 2,710 NWT homes said to need major repairs at the time of the last census, in 2016, though the number of homes in the territory has also risen in that time.



In Sambaa K’e, 60 percent of homes reported a need for major repairs. The figure was 57 percent in Fort McPherson and 50 percent in Wrigley.

Roughly a third of the NWT’s communities reported that 40 percent or more of their homes needed major repairs.

The figure was 10.5 percent in Yellowknife, 16.7 percent in Inuvik, 18.5 percent in Norman Wells, 17.6 percent in Hay River (the census took place before this spring’s flooding), 24.4 percent in Fort Simpson and 17 percent in Fort Smith.

Overall, 18.4 percent of NWT homes said major repair work was required. Only Nunavut reported a larger need at 26.6 percent of homes. The Yukon figure was 12.2 percent. Nova Scotia, at 8.2 percent, had the highest figure among provinces.



A further 5,180 NWT homes reported a need for minor repairs, defined as the likes of missing or loose floor tiles, bricks or shingles, or defective steps, railings or siding.

The census findings are borne out in community case studies.

A housing plan for Nahanni Butte, published this month, states: “Most homes need at least minor if not major repairs. With the high rate of homeownership, those who do not qualify for repair programs feel unsupported.” (The plan also mentions overcrowding in homes, long an issue in many NWT communities.)

The plan elaborated: “Many homes need roof work as well as repairs to windows and doors. Some residents also identified plumbing and foundation issues that need to be addressed. Many residents were unable to access Housing NWT repair funding programs, and more work may need to be done to make these programs more accessible to Nahanni Butte residents. With an ageing housing stock, the need for repairs is likely to continue or even increase in the near future.

“There is a lack of qualified tradespeople in the community to do repair work. To improve the housing situation and create more jobs, there should be more local training opportunities.”

Eleanor Young, president of Housing NWT, told community leaders at a meeting earlier this month that changes to the territorial agency’s policies and programs – designed in part to address concerns about how readily residents can access help – will begin to roll out just before or after Christmas.

Housing minister Paulie Chinna, addressing the same group, acknowledged that “the reality is we’re not able to repair every single unit in the Northwest Territories.” Chinna said Housing NWT would work to form partnerships with Indigenous governments that could access more funding to help.

Aurora College runs a housing maintainer program, delivery of which is understood to have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The eight-week program runs three times a year and provides an important source of repair workers for the territory’s various housing agencies.



Changes in new builds

For the first time in many years, the NWT is also building new public housing.

The territorial government committed in 2019 to creating 100 new public housing units by the end of 2023. Young said seven were completed last year, 63 are being finished this financial year, and the remainder will be ready in the 2023-24 financial year.

Until recently, Young said, Housing NWT’s funding had only stretched to replacement of old units without any cash for entirely new units that add to the territory’s overall stock.

Last week’s data release shows more than half of the NWT’s homes (public and private) date to 1990 or earlier. Remarkably, the census suggests 55 of the territory’s homes – not a precise figure, as Statistics Canada rounds to the nearest five – were built in 1920 or earlier.

The same data also highlights how the number of homes being built has changed over time.

More: The full collection of NWT 2021 census data

In the 10 years between 1981 and 1990, the data suggests nearly 3,400 homes were built in the territory. Another 3,000 were built in the following decade up to the turn of the century.

That figure fell to 2,000 in the first 10 years of the new millennium and dropped to around 1,600 in the past decade.

Of NWT housing currently in existence, more than half of the units reported in the census – 8,600 – are single detached homes.

Around 8,000 of the territory’s homes are owned and the remaining 7,000 or so are rented.