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Housing crisis worse for Indigenous families and women, study shows

Yellowknife's Summit housing development, top centre, is seen in May 2020
Yellowknife is seen from the air in May 2020. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

A new report from the Canadian Rental Housing Index has found Indigenous households and woman-led households are over 30 per cent more likely to struggle with housing.

The database, which was compiled by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, used 2021 census data for its findings. The index looks at average rental costs over time, housing spending, income, and the rate of overcrowding, which remains the top issue in the North.

It’s also able to track how these indicators change based on ethnicity and gender.

“The Statistics Canada data allows us to have that deeper level of analysis to look at household demographics,” said Ray Sullivan, the executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, a non-profit which represents people working in affordable housing and homelessness.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association was one of 10 non-profits that contributed to the project.



Why this database is different

“This is some of the stuff that doesn’t get captured by CMHC data, for example,” said Sullivan. “That’s the value of this data, the richness of seeing who these households are.”

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) northern housing report doesn’t look at affordability across the Northwest Territories – just Yellowknife.

The housing index, by contrast, was able to demonstrate that NWT rent prices have increased by as much as 14 per cent since 2016, and 21 per cent across Canada.

One third of all renters in the country were spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and utilities, and 13 per cent were spending more than half their income on rent.



The index also found that Canadians living with roommates to afford housing were not necessarily better able to pay their rent – 42 per cent of those living with roommates were spending more than a third of their income on rent.

Single rooms in shared accommodations are similarly expensive in Yellowknife, where in June 2023 bedrooms were listed for as much as $1,200.

But for Sullivan, one of the most significant takeaways from the database is the way that the country’s housing crisis is impacting marginalized communities, especially in the North.

“It shows clearly that folks hardest-hit by the housing crisis are women-led households,” said Sullivan. “And it shows some clear differences between Indigenous households and non-Indigenous households, particularly when it comes to the state of repair in the Northwest Territories.”

In the NWT, 18 per cent of renters are living in homes in need of major repairs compared to 26 per cent of Indigenous renters. 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.

“When you see a difference of that size based on census data, you know, as opposed to a survey that has wider error margins, it’s a big jump,” said Sullivan. “When you look at the profile of who are hardest-hit by the housing crisis, you’re also looking at the profile of what poverty looks like in this country. Those things are fundamentally linked.”

Indigenous households, single moms, seniors, immigrants and non-family households are part of that profile in the Northwest Territories.

Single mothers across the country were 38 per cent per cent more likely to be spending more than a third of their income on rent.



A 2022 report from the NWT bureau of statistics shared that the average full-time employment income was $84,638 for women and $96,979 for men, despite women having a higher level of education on average.

The index found NWT women were more likely to experience overcrowding and unaffordability.

New policy solutions

While many of these findings won’t be surprising to NWT residents, the most striking finding for the organization was the impact of one policy: the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (Cerb) payments that were handed out during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We actually saw an improvement, a drop of the number of households in core housing need,” said Sullivan. “And it didn’t have anything to do with the housing market – it had everything to do with Cerb, with pandemic wage subsidies.

“So we had a brief experiment in a universal basic income in this country and it made a significant positive effect on people’s ability to afford housing.”

Sullivan says that in areas that are struggling to build more housing, such as the North, universal basic income could be a policy that provides some relief.