Almost a thousand Northwest Territories residents are waiting for public housing to become available in their community, new data provided by the NWT Housing Corporation shows.
Many NWT communities have no option other than public housing. Applicants are scored on a points-based system that moves them up or down the waiting list.
“Where we are really stuck is in the small communities where there are limited options and limited incomes,” said Franklin Carpenter, acting chief executive of the NWT Housing Corporation, in the legislature this week.
“Right now, we are sitting with about 333 applicants [in those communities],” said Carpenter. “We have heard situations where people have sat on that list for a very long time.”
However, the housing corporation told Cabin Radio “there is currently no way” for its staff to track how long any individual has been on the public housing waiting list.
Number of NWT residents waiting for public housing, by region and number of bedrooms, as of March 12, 2020.
Some MLAs are certain their constituents have waited for years.
“In my community there are people who have been on there six-plus years,” said Lesa Semmler, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes.
“The people who have been living in our homeless shelter have been there for years and there is no movement where people transition into private accommodations, or anything.”
Paulie Chinna, who became the territory’s housing minister last fall, said: “The housing list is a huge concern for me.”
Chinna says she wants to “assess that list” and work with other departments to “see where we need to amend our policies in order to be more effective.”
“We have some people who have been on the waiting list for years, and I need to change that,” she told MLAs this week.
Data for each community
Overall, on March 12, 2020, there were 937 people on the NWT’s public housing waiting list. The housing corporation provided a snapshot of the data to Cabin Radio (with no names or identifying information) shortly after 4pm that day.
Of those 937, 561 are waiting for a one-bedroom unit. The numbers are likely to have already changed slightly, as the housing corporation says the list can fluctuate daily.
As of March 12, here’s how the waiting list looked in each community:
In the Beaufort Delta, 196 people were waiting for public housing. “We have a shortage of single units,” said Semmler, one of Inuvik’s two MLAs.
The NWT Housing Corporation says Inuvik’s Sydney Apartments building is set to be demolished in the next year, but one last effort will be made to find a buyer who could transform the building into something new.
“We have heard there might be some interest so we are going to go out one last time and advertise it, and see what response we get,” said Carpenter, the acting chief executive.
“It’s very expensive for us to operate and maintain a public housing unit,” Carpenter said this week. “It typically ranges around $20,000 a year.
“We haven’t really expanded our portfolio since the mid-1990s, so this is something we will have to keep working on.”
Around 2,800 units in the NWT, in total, are operated by the housing corporation.
In the Dehcho, as expected, most demand is found in the larger communities of Fort Liard and Fort Simpson. Jean Marie River and Nahanni Butte did not appear on the list provided by the housing corporation, suggesting there is no present waitlist in those communities.
The NWT Housing Corporation is working on community housing plans for each of the territory’s 33 communities. The plans are designed to outline what each community’s housing needs are, where gaps exist, and how funding could be directed to most quickly address the problems.
Whatì was the first NWT community to have a plan completed. You can now read the plan online in full. The data shows eight people in Whatì were waiting for public housing as of March 12, in a community of 130 households.
This week, housing minister Chinna said: “I want the majority of these community plans to be completed and done by August of this year.”
Chinna says she has seen Nunavut lobby the federal government to great effect for extra housing cash. She wants to do the same in planned federal talks at the end of 2020.
“I want to make my way down and lobby for more money to deal with our homelessness issue and put more houses on the ground, and this absolutely has to be done in August,” she said of the plans.
“I want a report completed and done by September, so I have something to present when I get down there in November.”
There is a lot of enthusiasm among residents of smaller communities for more log homes to be built.
This is mentioned in Whatì’s new community housing plan and was brought up to Cabin Radio by Mike Nitsiza, who contributed to that plan, last month. He says the log homes are usually sturdier and less susceptible to mould than other designs.
Four residents of Colville Lake have been building their own log home to combat a severe housing shortage in the small Sahtu community. One person remained on the housing corporation’s waitlist in Colville Lake as of March 12.
Most Sahtu housing need is concentrated in Délı̨nę, where 22 people are seeking one-bed homes and three are on the waitlist for two-bed homes.
A year has passed since the Hay River highrise fire and the building remains closed to occupants.
The community had 71 people on the public housing waitlist as of March 12. Fort Smith had 45 people on the waiting list. (Fort Providence is shown under the South Slave in the housing corporation’s data, not the Dehcho. Kakisa and Enterprise had no data, suggesting there is no waitlist in the communities.)
“What we are doing over the next four years is putting a big push on getting people into private home ownership, particularly in smaller communities,” said Carpenter this week. The NWT government’s new mandate states it will move 100 people into private homeownership before 2023 is up, freeing up capacity for more public housing to be built.
Carpenter says a lease-to-own program will aim to make the move into home ownership as cheap as possible, combining several different types of support.
He told Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos: “We’re going to make our detached inventory of public housing units available to tenants who have steady and stable incomes, who want to enter into home ownership.
“The way we assess the value is we have an internal assessment calculator that we use. It’s largely based on the age of the unit. Our inventory is, as many may know, fairly aged, so the value of these units is commonly not very high.
“We would also apply current programming to that to assist these tenants to become homeowners.”
Where is the list largest, proportionally?
Comparing the number of people waiting to the number of households in a community, Behchokǫ̀ and Paulatuk are the NWT communities with the largest waitlists for their size.
Délı̨nę, Tulita, and Fort Liard also have significant waiting lists when measured this way.
Behchokǫ̀ has 105 people waiting in a community of 471 households. By comparison, Fort Simpson – which coincidentally also has 471 households – has a waitlist of just 19.
Paulatuk has 17 people waiting in a community of 90 households. Ndilo, which has 92 households has a waitlist of only five.
However, Ndilo is also next to Yellowknife, a much larger community where there are options other than public housing. It’s much easier to find private accommodation in Yellowknife than it is in a community like Paulatuk.
“Applicants in small communities have few housing options outside of public housing. The NWT Housing Corporation focuses on these areas,” spokesperson Cara Bryant told Cabin Radio by email.