Yellowknife’s mayor said she was “shocked and dismayed” to discover federal funding for new transitional housing had collapsed after the NWT Housing Corporation reportedly failed to back the project.
Rebecca Alty said she had written to Paulie Chinna, the NWT’s housing minister, demanding to know why the Yellowknife Women’s Society’s plan to transform the Arnica Inn did not receive territorial support.
The society confirmed the project’s federal funding request had been denied. The renovated Arnica Inn would have helped more than 40 people move away from homelessness and toward permanent housing.
“It was a local not-for-profit taking the lead to get these 42 transitional housing units on the market quickly, and the GNWT wasn’t supportive. I can’t wrap my head around it,” Alty wrote in an unusually blunt Facebook post.
For a year, the women’s society has been trying to raise the money to buy and transform the Arnica Inn, on the slope of Franklin Avenue as the road descends toward Old Town.
The society said it applied for $2.25 million from a federal fund administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), then an extra $600,000 from the NWT Housing Corporation – which rose to $4 million and $660,000 when CMHC said the project should make some energy efficiency and accessibility upgrades.
Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, said the project is now effectively dead unless someone comes forward with at least $2 million. (Alty wants Premier Caroline Cochrane to approach the federal government and ask for the application to be reconsidered.)
“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Denning told Cabin Radio. “We’ve been trying to get this project off the ground for almost a year now. It was a really affordable and quick solution, much quicker than a new-build project or anything along those lines.
“We found out from CMHC that one of the reasons they did not approve our application was they needed a co-investment – and the housing corporation indicated they were not supportive of the project. That was the first time we became aware they were not interested in supporting the project.”
Denning says the society is able to re-apply, but the turnaround time on applications is ordinarily almost a year.
“The owners of the Arnica have been so patient with us,” she said. “It is very costly to operate a building, especially a building of that size and especially in the winter. But really, we can’t ask that they they wait any longer.”
The NWT Housing Corporation, approached for comment, initially attempted to arrange an interview with its president, Tom Williams. However, the interview was subsequently postponed and no written statement from the corporation was immediately available.
The corporation instead told reporters to call a northern housing specialist at CMHC. The specialist in question was out of the office, an automated message at their number stated. A housing corporation spokesperson, reached by phone, could not immediately confirm the corporation had failed to support the project.
Denning said she had written to both Williams and the minister, Chinna, and heard back from neither.
“Unless the decision is reversed, or another source of government support is found in the interim, or a private donor comes forward because they have a secret $2 million they’ve been sitting on for a little while, the project is sunk,” Denning said.
“And that’s really the saddest part: there’s no real recourse right now.”
‘It’s so frustrating’
Housing of most kinds is at a premium in Yellowknife, where rental costs in particular are high. Public housing tenants routinely complain of being forced to live in unsuitable or inadequate accommodation through lack of vacant alternatives.
Meanwhile, fires have destroyed dozens of housing units in recent years – including 33 transitional units at the Rockhill complex, which burned down in 2018.
“As the minister said in December, we’re in the midst of a housing crisis and we just missed the opportunity for federal housing funding,” said Alty.
“How can we lobby the federal government and ask for more money for housing when our territorial government isn’t helping local organizations get a well-researched and thought-out plan off the ground?
“My hope is … the GNWT has a plan that will house 42 individuals or more in Yellowknife within the next few months – just like the Yellowknife Women’s Society was going to do.”
Denning, meanwhile, said she hoped “a miracle” would allow the project to somehow acquire the funding to go ahead.
“It would make such a huge difference to the people that we are seeing every day,” she said. “But it’s very doubtful at this point that – short of a total reversal of this decision – we’d be able to make something happen in time.
“We could have moved people in right away, so we could have people housed before next winter. It’s so frustrating to see … an opportunity like this be missed, just because there wasn’t that support for it.”
Emelie Peacock contributed reporting.