The NWT must further prioritize housing, MLAs told cabinet in a themed legislature session, saying progress toward solving the housing crisis seemed too slow.
Ultimately, MLAs passed a motion calling for a review of the NWT Housing Corporation and more work to recognize housing’s role in ensuring the social wellness of the territory’s residents.
Territorial politicians also want the housing corporation to refer residents to programs that can help before beginning any eviction process.
Caitlin Cleveland, the MLA for Kam Lake, introduced the motion.
“Accessibility to everything that dignifies humanity starts in the home. The home supports conversations with people we trust about things that matter to us. It keeps us healthy and, when we are sick, it gives us the best place to get well,” she said.
Lesa Semmler, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, said: ‘If I could go back to the first week of this Legislative Assembly when we were coming up with our priorities, I would have said one: housing.”
Rocky Simpson, the MLA for Hay River South, called on the territory to “stop the BS and actually get out there and work to make things happen.”
As with last week’s motion tackling systemic racism in GNWT policies, the cabinet and premier said they supported the MLAs’ motion but abstained from the vote – as is convention.
The territorial government has 120 days to respond.
Problems at the top?
Simpson went as far as to ask whether Premier Caroline Cochrane would consider a cabinet shuffle to replace housing minister Paulie Chinna if, he said, the minister was the reason housing projects in the territory are moving slowly.
Simpson said the housing corporation had made “minimal progress over the last several decades,” which had “contributed to disadvantaging Indigenous peoples in areas such as education, employment, and health.”
Cochrane firmly rejected a cabinet shuffle. The premier said she and Chinna had recently met with housing corporation staff to identify priorities and make a plan of action.
“I will do what is necessary to make sure, before the end of this Assembly, that we have more houses on the ground and that we address – not all, I’m not naive – but that we start addressing the housing needs of the Northwest Territories. That is my commitment,” Cochrane said.
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos continued her call for a dedicated seniors’ housing strategy, while Semmler said the only significant housing progress in Inuvik had been work on RCMP units, which “have no impact to the community residents.”
Chinna, responding, said she expected positive news from the federal government in the coming weeks. She did not disclose the likely nature of that announcement.
Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge urged the installation of more biomass heating in NWT communities to improve energy efficiency, saying that would reduce reliance on imported fuels, reduce fuel consumption, and deliver cost savings.
Chinna said the housing corporation was examining ways to decrease fuel usage and introduce energy-efficient alternatives.
“Working with the utilities within our public housing units and also looking at the fluctuating use of oil, gas, and electricity … we do have a strategy within the housing corporation to alleviate those costs,” she said.
Chinna said she would commit to asking the federal government about the territory’s ability to pursue a biomass energy strategy.