Yellowknife applicants for federal housing funding – whose projects were turned down in part because of federal frustration with the NWT Housing Corporation – are lining up new bids for money.
Ottawa’s Rapid Housing Initiative rejected several Yellowknife bids in recent months. Applicants understand they were rejected in large part because the territorial government hadn’t spent a $60-million housing co-investment fund provided to the NWT government a year earlier.
As Cabin Radio reported in March, federal housing secretary Adam Vaughn described the NWT as “a challenge” because the territory’s housing corporation “hadn’t touched” that $60-million fund.
“For God’s sake, there’s money sitting here you could have been spending last year,” Vaughn said.
After that report was published, the territorial and federal governments spent the entire $60 million in one go – but that still left Yellowknife’s rapid housing applicants with no money.
Bill Enge, president of the North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA), said “frustrations were high” when the organization found out its rapid housing application was denied.
In March, the organization’s bid to build a 12-unit seniors’ complex in downtown Yellowknife was rejected. Enge said the North Slave Métis Alliance had rushed to created its application in less than five weeks, working through the Christmas holiday.
Enge said the complex would have helped retiring NSMA members and other Indigenous Elders.
“It was very well-situated to meet the needs of seniors who would reside in the complex,” he said.
The NSMA had applied to the Rapid Housing Initiative after NWT housing minister Paulie Chinna wrote to groups across the territory in November last year, urging them to apply before the deadline of December 31.
Enge says the NSMA scrambled to meet that deadline and “had to swallow a $50,000 bill” on an application that he now feels must have had no chance of success, given federal concern that the NWT was already sitting on housing money.
“It really added insult to injury for us because we didn’t know we were embarking on a fool’s errand by applying for this funding,” he said. “It was dead on arrival.”
The YWCA NWT also applied to the Rapid Housing Initiative, hoping to expand Lynn’s Place, which provides safe housing for women in Yellowknife.
As of March, the YWCA had more than 50 families on its waiting list for housing support.
“This is something that we’ve put our time and effort into,” said YWCA NWT executive director Hawa Dumbuya-Sesay, expressing disappointment after the organization’s application was denied.
“This is something I really believe in. We need this for families that are experiencing homelessness,” she said.
A fire at the Rockhill apartment complex in 2018 destroyed 33 YWCA units, leaving a gap in family housing.
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty had earlier confirmed the city’s own application to the Rapid Housing Initiative was denied. The city had planned to transform a motel into housing units.
Alty said the Yellowknives Dene First Nation also had an application denied. The First Nation could not be reached for comment.
New funding announced
Since those applications were denied, the federal government has given more money to the Rapid Housing Initiative.
If the recently announced federal budget is passed, the fund will be given $1.5 billion in 2021-22 to create at least 4,500 units across Canada. At least 25 percent of the money will go toward projects focused on helping women.
The program only funds projects that promise to build new housing within 12 months of receiving the cash.
The extra cash could provide renewed hope to Yellowknife-based programs that were rejected the first time around, but the details remain unclear.
Asked on Monday if the NWT’s rejected projects would have any form of priority access to the new money, federal northern affairs minister Dan Vandal had no clear answer.
Instead, he said: “We’re the first to acknowledge we need to do a better job of making sure that housing funding lands well in the North.”
A spokesperson for the federal department of finance, responding to questions about the proposed extra cash for rapid housing, said more information would follow “in due course.”
Vandal said he had committed to discussing the issue with the federal housing minister, Ahmed Hussen. Hussen has said his department will “have more to say on rapid housing” in the territory, but hasn’t commented on the projects in question.
Whether those rejected projects will have to submits new applicants is not clear.
Alty said the city would need to evaluate whether applying again from scratch would be worthwhile, and would need to examine the associated conditions attached to the funding.
Enge said the North Slave Métis Alliance will apply again.
By email, Dumbuya-Sesay said she believed the new announcement meant the YWCA NWT’s application “will be reactivated” but would need to meet any new criteria established by the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
“At this point, we’re unclear of what those will be and whether we’ll qualify,” Dumbuya-Sesay wrote. She said the YWCA NWT remained intent on moving forward with the Lynn’s Place expansion and was “now seeking other options for funding while we wait on the Rapid Housing Initiative announcement.”