Eleanor Young, newly installed as president of the NWT Housing Corporation, must lead the territorial government’s efforts to address a housing crisis that has stretched for decades.
Young took on the role in May after former president Tom Williams stepped down through ill health. She says “nothing is off the table” in her quest to fix existing homes and find the money for new ones.
Most recently the deputy minister of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, Young previously worked as a housing manager and senior administrative officer in Ulukhaktok.
“For me it’s almost like coming home, which has been a really interesting experience,” she said after four months in her new post.
The NWT Housing Corporation oversees about 2,800 homes across the territory, most of which are expected to last for 50 years from the time they’re built. Increasingly, the housing corporation finds itself battling to maintain and extend the lives of existing buildings rather than producing new places to live.
“We have a lot of ageing stock out there,” Young said. “If you visit any of our communities, you’ll hear that.
“We’ve been putting a lot of our efforts in recent years into keeping the stock either repaired or replaced, and that of course has cause challenges with dealing with demand for waitlists and things like that.”
Coming off an election in which all parties pledged funding for housing, the corporation will look for federal, territorial, Indigenous, and charitable partners to find the money that will “maximize opportunities” to address the crisis.
The housing corporation faced criticism last year when the NWT’s $60-million share of a national fund lay untouched for months. The delay in spending that money subsequently played a role in the denial of several NWT applications for another federal rapid housing program.
That $60 million has since been allotted: for example, $34.5 million is going to Indigenous governments and organizations to repair and construct 66 units, of which $19 million is being used by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation for new homes, and $4.9 million is being spent in Tulita.
The remaining $25.5 million is being spent by the housing corporation on 60 affordable units in 16 of the territory’s smaller communities.
A separate rapid housing grant will see $3.9 million spent on 18 new modular homes in the four Tłı̨chǫ communities.
While that money is being spent – and with the incoming Liberal government having pledged more, such as a new fund dedicated to Indigenous housing – Young wants to examine how the housing corporation can better develop and maintain the NWT’s public housing.
Young said she has heard criticism that the corporation hasn’t “been as innovative as it could be,” but she also said the territory’s unique environment can complicate tasks that are simpler in the south.
Shipping a home on a barge, for example, can have an impact on a unit before it even reaches its destination. But often there is no alternative means of getting a modular unit to a community that doesn’t have road access.
“We’re taking all of those questions right now and willing to look at whatever ideas folks may have,” said Young, “and have a conversation about where we should go.”
One challenge is knowing the exact state of the corporation’s existing housing stock.
The corporation recently issued a request for proposals seeking a contractor to assess the worth – and lifespan – of buildings like Yellowknife’s Hilltop Apartments, Mary Murphy seniors’ residence, and Riverview seniors’ lodge, alongside housing authority offices and warehouses in Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, and Délı̨nę.
Young said her corporation hopes, in each instance, to “understand the exact condition of the different components of the building and get an estimate on what needs to be done.”
She added most of those units “are getting to the end of their useful lives” and decisions need to be made about renovation or replacement.
The assessments will also examine the buildings’ electrical systems and energy efficiency. Young said the corporation is increasing working to bolster the energy efficiency of its units.
The contract to assess those buildings is worth $300,000. The work is scheduled for completion by mid-February.