If Lyda Fuller has her way, a new Yellowknife housing unit for 20 to 25 families will be up and running in the next three years.
Since a fire consumed the city's Rockhill emergency and transitional housing complex in October 2018, the YWCA's NWT branch has been searching for a way to replace the lost housing for families.
Seventy-eight people who lost their homes in that fire were re-housed in rental units. Fuller, executive director of YWCA NWT, said that's not ideal.
Rockhill "was the mainstay of our family housing program," Fuller said, "which included both emergency housing for three months – which would be free – and transitional housing up to one or two years, where you paid rent that was lower than market."
People living at Rockhill had access to on-site staff and programming. Though support staff still visit former tenants spread out across the city, the same level of support can no longer be offered.
The YWCA has spent the year since the fire exploring options for a replacement building. The first plan, involving a federally owned apartment building, fell through.
Now, the YWCA is starting to submit funding applications to develop a new building on two lots the organization owns on 54 Street. The building would be located beside Lynn's Place, an 18-unit safe housing complex that prioritizes women leaving abusive relationships.
Initial estimates suggest the proposed building would cost around $11 million and house up to 25 families – fewer than Rockhill, which had 36 units, but contributing to what the YWCA feels is a clear need in Yellowknife. Exactly who will qualify for housing in the new building (for example: couples and their families or single women and children only) is to be determined.
"What we'll have to do is assess the safety risks to Lynn's Place of having a building that close that has both genders in it," Fuller said.
The YWCA hopes to receive funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and a fund linked to the federal affordable housing strategy.
If all goes to plan, the organization hopes to build the new facility without the need for a mortgage. Rockhill was owned by the NWT government while the YWCA paid operating and maintenance costs; Lynn's Place operates with a forgivable mortgage from the CMHC – which, in practice, means the YWCA can use the building without paying the mortgage.
Fuller says waiting any more than three years for the new building "would be difficult for us," given existing needs. She believes there are better funding streams in place than existed when Lynn's Place – a project which took 10 years to complete – was at a similar stage.
"I'm hoping that this process will be quicker because there are funding streams in place," Fuller said. "When they started to actually build Lynn's Place, it went up and was finished in less than a year. So it was really a quick build."