The Northwest Territories has completed its first community housing plan – designed to address a growing crisis. Now, there are just 32 left to go.
Whatì’s community housing plan is the first to roll off the lot. The plan was finalized in mid-December by representatives of the NWT Housing Corporation, Whatì community government, and Tłı̨chǫ Government.
The plans are designed to unite important information in one document: how communities want to see their housing improve, local housing data, and information on applicable housing programs.
The NWT Housing Corporation says each plan should make it easier for communities to demonstrate housing problems, identify ways to solve them, and find money to get the work done. Development of each plan is intended to be “community-driven.”
Tom Williams, the housing corporation’s president, said this means a new, “bottom-up process” where communities can increasingly determine the help they get.
“We hired community people to help with the logistics in the community, to interview people, and to help develop a plan,” said Williams.
In Whatì, residents welcomed their increased involvement but felt still more autonomy was needed.
Mike Nitsiza, who worked on Whatì’s plan by providing community knowledge and helping people engage in its development, said residents wanted their voices to be heard and to see concerns addressed.
“[They want to] have more say on houses and they want to be more educated or trained so they know [how to repair their homes],” he told Cabin Radio.
But Nitsiza would like to see the corporation do more.
“The community or the homeowner never has any say in the design of the homes,” he said.
Nitsiza would like to see more log homes built, which he says are sturdier than the housing corporation’s preferred designs and less susceptible to mould.
‘It’s how you use the document’
Whatì was chosen for the first community plan as there are big pressures on its housing stock coming up: the new all-season road and work to open a nearby cobalt mine.
Williams said the plan identifies Whatì’s current housing needs, what it might need in future, and what the community’s wish-list is for housing improvements.
The housing corporation will use Whatì’s plan as a basic template for other communities. Twelve other plans are now in progress and the corporation wants to complete all 33 plans in the next two years.
“What we’re finding is every community has different housing needs and different solutions to meet the gaps that they have,” said Williams.
In December, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya told Cabin Radio he had doubts the housing plans would make a difference.
Yakeleya worried the plans would not be as effective as hoped, saying the corporation’s policies have, in his view, not met the needs of Dene people in the past.
“I’m not sure if this approach that they’re talking about is just words without any real impact,” he wondered at the time.
But Williams believes the plans will make a difference if communities update them regularly and use them to acquire funding through federal, territorial, and investment corporation programs.
“It may be another document, but it’s how they use that document,” he said. “I know how [the housing corporation] is going to use it – it’s going to inform our capital plan for the next few years.”
Williams said Whatì’s plan has already helped the community get $500,000 from the housing corporation under the community housing support initiative. The money will be used to build two market houses for the community, to house professionals like teachers or nurses.
Whatì will provide the land and pay to install the units once the community approves the final plan. Nitsiza said that should be tabled soon.