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Housing

NWT housing projects held up because territory won’t touch $60M fund


Some NWT housing projects have been denied federal financial support because the territorial government still hasn’t touched an existing, dedicated $60-million federal fund.

Mayor of Yellowknife Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio four Yellowknife-based applications to the federal Rapid Housing Initiative – money designed to quickly get vulnerable people into homes – had not been granted funding.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the federal agency that oversees the initiative, would not confirm to Cabin Radio how many NWT projects had been denied funding. Cabin Radio understands the basic nature of the projects has been approved but they have not been awarded the cash to go ahead.

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Although the projects may not immediately receive rapid housing cash, the federal government says there is still a chance they may move forward.

The revelation that NWT projects are being held up because the territory hasn’t spent a dedicated pot of federal housing cash comes days after MLAs called on the GNWT to do more, faster to fix the territory’s housing crisis.

The $60 million in question is a portion of a much larger National Housing Co-Investment Fund. The $60 million has been “carved off” from that fund specifically for the NWT, an unusual arrangement that the federal government sees as demonstrating its commitment to helping the territory address its deep-rooted housing problems.

Yet the territory has spent the best part of a year applying for more money from the main national fund while appearing to ignore its dedicated $60-million share. When Cabin Radio spent days trying to unearth an explanation for this in November 2020, neither the federal nor territorial governments could adequately explain why.

In a recent call with housing and homelessness groups, Adam Vaughan – the federal parliamentary secretary for housing – made clear Ottawa’s frustration at the NWT’s approach.

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Video of the call seen by Cabin Radio shows Vaughan telling attendees: “The Northwest Territories once again created a bit of a challenge for us. The co-investment fund hasn’t been touched.

“The co-investment fund is 100-percent capital – that’s the agreement we signed – but the territorial government hasn’t spent it yet. They’ve applied through the other co-investment fund while they’re sitting on $60 million in capital funding.”

Recounting an earlier meeting between federal housing minister Ahmed Hussen and his NWT counterpart Paulie Chinna, Vaughan said Hussen asked why the $60 million had not been spent. According to Vaughan, Chinna’s response was: “We’ve applied to the other program.”

“But for God’s sake, there’s money sitting here you could have been spending last year,” Vaughan continued, characterizing the exchange.

Ottawa asks for NWT’s permission to dip into $60M

The NWT has in recent months acknowledged that it needs to get moving in spending the $60 million.

In November, the territory allotted $15 million over three years to help groups apply for money from the fund. As a co-investment fund, cash is only dispensed when multiple sources of money come on board: usually the group behind a project, the territorial government and the federal government.

At the time, the GNWT said a new employee was also being hired to help groups apply for the funding.

Asked for the current status of the $60 million and whether any has been spent, the NWT Housing Corporation said on Friday it had no comment.

Vaughan, in the video call, said funding could still flow to some projects in “a matter of days,” despite the decision not to grant them Rapid Housing Initiative cash, as the initiative and the co-investment fund are separate sources of funding.

The federal government is now looking at using some of the $60 million to fund the rapid housing projects – if the NWT government agrees.

“Because we have these applications that are qualified and ready to go, it doesn’t matter if it comes out of Rapid Housing or the co-investment,” Vaughan said, adding the federal government had sent a letter to the GNWT asking for the territory’s permission to spend the co-investment fund in this way.

“The projects in the Rapid Housing approved-but-unfunded stream will be realized in, very literally, a matter of days – so that letter is critical,” he said.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the NWT Housing Corporation would not confirm whether the territorial government had given its consent.

Vaughan said if that option moves forward, there would be later conversations to address how to replenish the co-investment fund.

‘Glimmer of hope’ for projects to move forward

Alty, the Yellowknife mayor, said the opportunity for those projects to still receive funding was a “glimmer of hope.” She wants the territorial government to swiftly grant its consent for Ottawa to use co-investment fund cash.

“I’m just really hoping the federal and territorial government can work out this co-investment funding and are able to fund projects up here in the North, because we need that money out the door so housing can be built,” she said.

“It’s just so important.”

She described disappointment at hearing Rapid Housing Initiative applications from the City of Yellowknife, YWCA NWT, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and North Slave Métis Alliance were all unsuccessful.  

The mayor said there had been frustration on learning no money would be awarded as at no point had the NWT’s handling of its $60-million co-investment fund carve-off been raised as a potential hurdle.

“All of the four organizations put a lot of time and energy into our applications. Then to find out, ‘Oh, we’re not going to approve it because you should just use this co-investment fund’ – it’s frustrating,” Alty said.

The City of Yellowknife’s proposal involves acquiring a motel and transforming the building into housing units. The YWCA NWT was hoping to expand Lynn’s Place, Alty added, and the North Slave Métis Alliance wanted to build affordable seniors’ housing.

Alty said the co-investment fund had proved challenging to access and the Rapid Housing Initiative’s application process was both easier and resulted in a quicker response.

Meanwhile, the federal and territorial governments have called a news conference for Monday at which an announcement related to housing funding is expected.

In the Legislative Assembly on March 10, housing minister Chinna said she was expecting a “big announcement.” No further details were immediately available.

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