A submitted photo of Glenn Smith. Photo: Thorsten Gohl
After years of research and consultation, the Town of Hay River and NWT government have revealed a five-year plan to address housing issues in the community.
The 45-page plan, developed in consultation with the Hay River Métis, Kátł’odeeche and West Point First Nations, also involved Yellowknife-based firms Phillpot Consulting and PlanIt North.
The document lists residents’ goals – put together by an advisory committee despite delays brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and flooding – and outlines a strategy to meet them.
The result is a plan in which the town hopes to add 140 housing units to the market, 30 new secondary suites to single-family homes, and 30 units for seniors, while reducing the number of vacant lots and buildings.
The report also sets out programming goals to help ensure those targets are met, such as a transitional housing program that’s integrated with emergency shelter services, a trades apprenticeship program at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, and at-home accessibility supports for seniors and people with disabilities.
“Our top priorities were to help improve the affordability and the diversification of housing options available in the community,” said Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer. “I’m really happy with what’s been produced. It’s a bit of a new area for the town in terms of taking more responsibility for our housing stock.”
Housing NWT has worked with communities for the past four years to develop local housing plans, though it recently backed away from doing so in all circumstances, saying Indigenous groups were better-placed to lead much of that work.
Smith said the impetus to create Hay River’s plan also came after a particularly difficult blow to the community’s housing market: the devastating fire that left Hay River’s highrise uninhabitable in 2019.
“The loss of the highrise had a major impact on our housing situation, especially multi-family housing,” said Smith. “Over a hundred units were taken off the market when it closed, and the town had zero residential properties in its inventory for sale or development at the time.”
While the new housing targets in the plan may sound daunting, Smith said the town hopes to exceed that figure. Meanwhile, discussions about reopening the highrise have begun. While that isn’t a done deal, resuming use of the building would quickly cover 100 of the town’s 140-unit target.
“The highrise is a very unique housing project. It’s almost a live-or-die project for us,” said Smith. “I think council recognizes the importance of trying to work with that developer and see if there are incentives to help with its reopening.”
“Those two together make up 140 units that could come online fairly quickly,” he said. “So while the plan may seem a bit aggressive, I think if everyone comes together, we have the resources to make this happen. It’s attainable.”
The town has already met a target of updating bylaws and zoning restrictions so as to allow construction of smaller homes and garden suites.
One of the most important considerations in the plan – and one that sets it apart from some other communities in the NWT – is Hay River’s tendency to flood. The town hopes to ensure its housing stock is resilient to natural disasters such as flooding and wildfires.
After years of research and discussions with non-profits and residents, Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said she was grateful to everyone who participated, and said implementing the plan would be a “top priority” for council.
“We thank Housing NWT and the many businesses, organizations, and individuals who participated in the development of the plan and look forward to working with our partners to transform housing supply in the community,” Jameson said.
Correction: April 17, 20223 – 15:33 MT. This article has been amended to include the consultation of the Hay River Métis Government.