Fort Smith asks residents for help with new housing plan
Fort Smith, the latest Northwest Territories community to work with Housing NWT on a community housing plan, is now asking residents for feedback.
An advisory board meeting to discuss the community’s needs involves the Fort Smith Métis Council, Salt River and Smith’s Landing First Nations, GNWT, Aurora College, health centre, local businesses, developers, seniors and youth.
A survey is available online or residents can share their thoughts in person at the Town of Fort Smith’s trade show booth on April 29.
“We’re looking to really have a good cross-section of the community, with as much data collected as possible, to then lead us into what our strategy may look like,” said Diane Seals, the town’s economic development officer
“The long-term goal is to find solutions for the community that last well into the future.”
What’s become clear so far is how much the community cares.
“I sit on a number of these kinds of advisory board meetings and attendance can sometimes be tough,” said Emily Colucci, the town’s director of community services.
“But for the housing advisory board? Attendance has been unbelievably impressive. People want to have these conversations because everybody in this community, no matter how long they’ve been here, has been touched by issues related to housing in some way, shape or form.”
So far, staff say they have heard high demand for one and two-bedroom units for single adults, seniors and newcomers to the community, which are hard to come by.
Colucci said a number of residents also want something to be done about vacant housing units in the town.
“We have empty units, empty houses sitting in the community, but not enough homes for people to live in,” said Colucci. “A lot of these units are held by government organizations and they’ve fallen into disrepair, and then they sit empty.”
Colucci says there’s a pattern – seen in many northern communities – of building new homes and infrastructure that aren’t a great fit for the people or weather, and which then end up derelict.
“Everybody in the North knows at this point that it’s expensive to build new,” she said. If the lives of older buildings can be extended, she added, “it would be really beneficial to our community. We’d like to see everything that’s here being used.”
Both Colucci and Seals say they are committed to putting together a plan that will meet the needs of as many townspeople as possible. But to do that, more research will be needed.
“We don’t want to come out, guns blazing, and start building homes without knowing what the housing needs are,” said Seals. “Right now, we’re drowning in anecdotal evidence, but we want to really put some numbers behind things.”
“It’s not as simple as just build more houses,” said Colucci. “We’re really lucky to have a community that’s so engaged and passionate about this, who are ready to work together to make a strategy that we can put into action – if there is funding to be found.”
The town expects its housing report to be complete by June.