The Canadian and Northwest Territories governments signed a 10-year deal worth nearly $140 million on Thursday, boldly pledging residents “can count on” the funding if they face housing difficulties.

The agreement begins in April 2019. The federal government will contribute $87.7 million over a decade; the territorial government’s share is $51.7 million.

There are two significant consequences NWT residents will notice.

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The first is money to help the territory build and repair low-cost and community housing – including at least a further $60 million from another federal program, not included in the above figure.

The second is the creation and implementation of a new housing benefit “to provide affordability support directly to families and individuals in housing need,” a news release issued by the governments stated.

No further detail was immediately available regarding how that benefit will look or what an individual entitlement might amount to, nor how residents might qualify.

However, the governments said the agreement would commit them to “new and higher standards of transparency, public engagement, and housing quality.” A portion of the money will go toward improvements in energy efficiency and accessibility.

“The agreement also acknowledges the importance of prioritizing people most in need, incorporating a human rights-based approach to housing,” the statement declared, though it did not elaborate on the means by which cases would be evaluated and prioritized.

Discussing how the benefit will work, Adam Vaughan – parliamentary secretary to Canada’s social development minister –said it would subsidize people, not bricks and mortar.

In doing so, he said, the benefit would “give agency to those people looking for housing.

“When you lock subsidy into a unit of housing you lock people into geography,” said Vaughan. “That’s not how people live.”

He added how the territory chooses to specifically deploy the benefit – funded through Thursday’s deal – would “be their choice.”

‘Our need is great’

In his prepared remarks, Vaughan said Ottawa was targeting a national 15 percent expansion in new, affordable housing, alongside renewing 20 percent of existing community housing.

Vaughan, in Yellowknife to present the agreement, claimed fellow Liberal MP Michael McLeod – standing behind him – was “the difference” in ensuring the territory received the cash.

Alfred Moses, the NWT’s housing minister, called the deal “game-changing” and pledged to work alongside Indigenous governments to roll out the cash.

“Our need is great, and our costs are high. We have many families living in overcrowded homes, in need of repair … many who cannot afford the housing available on the private market,” said Moses.

“[The agreement] is a good one, and much-needed.

“After today, we’re probably going to get a lot of phone calls. We want to work with people.”

Three-year action plans, beginning in 2019-20, will outline housing targets and specific actions to be taken.

The territory’s housing corporation operates 2,400 public housing units, Thursday’s news release stated, and 500 affordable housing units.