Two new public housing complexes opened in Fort McPherson and Inuvik this month, aiming to meet the needs of two groups most in need of housing: seniors and singles.
"Any housing development is a good thing," said Suzette Montreuil, executive director of the NWT Seniors' Society.
The number of NWT residents over 60 has risen 53 percent since 2004 and is forecast to increase by another 71 percent over the next 10 years, turning housing into a pressing need.
In response, the NWT Housing Corporation has opened a nine-plex for seniors in Fort McPherson. The hamlet is one of four small communities to open dedicated seniors' buildings, joining Aklavik, Fort Liard, and Whatì. Another, in Fort Good Hope, is expected to open in the fall.
Fort McPherson's building is designed for "supported independent living," which means the design includes things like no-step entrances to units, wider doorways, a caretaker's unit, and a common space which can also be used for health programming. Two of the units will be "barrier-free." The building was built by PJK Joint Venture, a local contractor.
Wanda Pascal, Chief of the Tetlit Gwich'in Council, told Cabin Radio the complex is a long time coming. Seniors are being sent to Inuvik or as far as Yellowknife, she said, when their needs aren't being met locally – and they face loneliness while away.
"Some of them are getting old and they can't help themselves, and it's hard on the family," Pascal said. "So, with a caretaker, I think it'd be really good for them to be there to take care of the Elders."
Pascal said many other buildings are still needed in her community, including a homeless shelter that she estimates around 10 people would likely use.
"They're not really homeless but they're just staying here and there ... with friends. There's nobody staying outside," she said.
In May, Fort McPherson's public housing waitlist reported 25 people waiting for public housing, 19 of whom required one-bedroom accommodation. The hamlet has a population of 776.
Public housing is critical for seniors, Montreuil told Cabin Radio in March. A report by the society found many seniors renting at market prices in the NWT's urban centres were unable to pay for basic needs on their current income.
"If [seniors] lived in a market rental, none of the communities showed an income level where they could make ends meet," Montreuil said.
The income gap was most pronounced for seniors living alone and renting in Inuvik. The report suggested smaller, more remote communities were likely to produce an even larger financial gap, but adequate data was not available.
The vast majority of seniors want to stay in their communities as they age, Montrieul said. Exactly how they want to live depends on the person.
"One of the things I hear from seniors and Elders all the time is they're looking for flexibility," she said. This includes some wanting to live on their own, others wanting to live with their families, and a need for accessible housing.
"The need is really high right now and more of this needs to be in the process of being developed," said Montreuil, "because the numbers are increasing and the needs are going to be present and increasing as well."
Housing for singles opens in Inuvik
A 17-unit public housing building opened in Inuvik on August 2, built to replace the town's Sydney Apartments. Rooms in the building are single-occupancy, which residents told the territorial government they required during public consultations.
A 17-plex was opened in Inuvik earlier this month. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
"This new 17-unit public housing building will meet a clear need residents of Inuvik told us they had," said Alfred Moses, the housing minister, in a news release.
"Mayor and council are excited to have the new building open and for folks to get into the beautiful new units," Inuvik mayor Natasha Kulikowski said in an email to Cabin Radio.
According to housing corporation data from May 2019, Inuvik had 102 people waiting for public housing. Sixty-four of those were waiting for singles' housing. Of the communities with the longest public housing lists, Inuvik placed third behind Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀.
The 17-plex was built by Cofly Construction Ltd, an Inuvik contractor. Cofly was the second contractor to take on the project, which was re-tendered over apparent "deficiencies" with the first contractor.
The housing corporation operates 2,400 public housing units and 500 affordable housing units across the territory.