Elders have ‘no way to pay’ huge housing sums owed, says MLA
Housing NWT should stop pursuing Elders over arrears they cannot pay back in their lifetimes, says Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong.
The territory’s housing agency is currently owed $19.3 million in mortgage payments, more than $7 million of which are payments in arrears, the agency says.
Just under 250 people owe money to Housing NWT through mortgage agreements. Nine people have arrears of more than $100,000.
In the NWT’s legislature this month, Weyallon Armstrong criticized the practice of garnishing wages or pensions to recover arrears.
“There are countless Elders living on fixed incomes and it is difficult for many of them to make ends meet. Many Elders are retirees and have contributed financially to the territory. In my eyes, the system has failed these individuals,” Weyallon Armstrong said.
“Elders are being put into difficult situations where, reluctantly, many must agree to have their pensions and taxes garnished just to keep a roof over their heads.”
A lot of this debt comes from what housing minister Paulie Chinna calls “quite an old program” that helped families who couldn’t obtain a regular mortgage through a bank.
The territory, with federal support, offered subsidized loans that helped people to either obtain or repair a home.
“Some Elders owe $100,000 or more. We know, in their lifetime, there is no way to pay back this debt,” said Weyallon Armstrong. “Why is the Minister of Housing penalizing Elders with a financial burden that is unrealistic to pay back within their lifetime?”
Chinna acknowledged that some of the figures are “huge” and many files date back 15 or 20 years. Garnishing, she said, is “our last resort in attempts to recover the funding needed to be paid back to Housing NWT.”
The housing minister said she would work with Weyallon Armstrong.
“If these debts are more than 10, 15, 20 years old, I would like to look at those and see what we could come up with for better solutions on how to look at those recoveries,” Chinna said.
But she stopped short of promising to end the system of garnishing.
“I do want to highlight that the amount owing from the public to Housing NWT is about $19 million,” the minister said.
“I don’t know if this government is wanting to write off $19 million.”