The NWT government should invest more in northern businesses instead of letting rental fees flow into the pockets of landlords in southern Canada, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson argued this week.
In the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Johnson urged the territorial government to stop leasing from Northview, a company that has long possessed a dominant share of the NWT’s rental market.
Northview, already a southern-based landlord, was recently acquired by two other southern real estate investment firms – Kingsett Capital and Starlight.
The company owns a range of Yellowknife buildings – both residential and commercial – including some in which the GNWT operates offices.
The territorial government says it currently pays $18 million in rent to southern landlords annually.
“I want us to stop being the anchor tenant in all of their buildings when they have repeatedly shown little interest in our community,” Johnson said.
“These landlords have long treated real estate as an investment as opposed to the offices and homes that we all live and work in.”
A day later, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby told the legislature southern landlords had a demonstrably poor record of helping residents with issues in their homes.
She said constituents complained of not receiving replies when they voiced concerns about issues ranging from inadequate snow clearing and burned-out lights to broken locks and powerless parking stalls.
“Many times the landlord is contacted with no reply, leaving residents no option but to vent on social media in hopes of affecting change,” Nokleby said.
“Generally, these pleas fall on deaf ears – not surprising given the large percentage of apartment buildings owned by southern real estate firms.
“These firms have a mandate to increase profits for their shareholders. This leads to a high turnover of renters in apartments as it is ‘good business’ to have a certain percentage of new units for rent each year so you can increase the rent.”
Nokleby believes this is compounding the NWT’s housing crisis, particularly as concerns like mould in units may not be addressed by southern owners.
According to Johnson, the GNWT’s current policy requires that the government only lease buildings if doing so is cheaper than owning them. If a lease is signed at a cost greater than owning the building, the money must go to a northern business.
Infrastructure minister Diane Archie said the NWT was working within those policies despite many turnovers, mergers and changes of ownership. The minister said her government currently leases 72 percent of its general office space and owns the remaining 28 percent.
Johnson, who said a prior analysis suggested ownership of buildings was cheaper for the territorial government than leasing, asked Archie for a cost-benefit analysis of rented buildings to ensure southern landlords are not receiving a premium.
Archie said leases are reviewed as they expire and any new lease with a term of more than 10 years receives a “lease versus own analysis.”