From its name and structure to its relationship with Indigenous governments, the NWT Housing Corporation has published a new strategy that agrees: change is needed.
The move comes after regular MLAs called in March for a review of the housing corporation and more work to recognize the role housing plays in fostering the well-being of the territory’s residents.
A 14-page document, dubbed a “strategy of renewal” and outlining how the housing corporation plans to change, was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.
“The proposed approach is action-oriented: it is clear that the time for further studies is over, and that it is time to implement solutions,” the strategy states.
The 19 MLAs elected in 2019 immediately prioritized increasing the number of affordable NWT homes, but the housing corporation has since faced scrutiny over the lack of tangible difference in the territory-wide housing crisis.
$60 million in federally provided housing money was finally allocated by the GNWT in March after months left untouched. The delay in spending that money subsequently played a role in the denial of several NWT applications for another federal rapid housing program.
Housing minister Paulie Chinna this week told the Legislative Assembly an additional 90 public housing units have been secured for the territory and an application made for federal help to build 14 seniors’ units.
But complaints about dire housing need are routine from the territory’s regular MLAs, while the Dene Nation and Indigenous governments have each decided to tackle the issue by demanding that funds flow directly to Indigenous leadership.
Introducing the housing corporation’s renewal strategy, Chinna said changes need to be made.
“New actions will be coming and will not stop until we have made clear our progress based on our four pillars of renewal: rethinking our purpose, strengthening our staff, revising our programs, and deepening and growing our partnerships,” she said.
Chinna pledged the next two years will see “record numbers of homes” established while 160 public housing units will be repaired and upgraded by the end of 2022.
The strategy includes rebranding the housing corporation, which is likely to lose the “corporation” name and be given a new logo. “This action will signal a clear break with the past, an improved reputation, and new way of doing things,” the strategy states.
More meaningfully, the territory will begin scrutinizing legislation that governs the housing corporation to make sure it isn’t getting in the way. The corporation will rewrite its mandate to provide a clearer sense of what residents can actually expect it to do, versus what it calls “the broader landscape of housing in the NWT.”
That work will include clarifying the department’s role with Indigenous governments, communities, and non-government organizations, and in tackling homelessness. The strategy states the corporation will “refocus” on delivering social housing and programs for “those who need them most.”
No ‘competing’ with Indigenous governments
Acknowledging regional offices don’t have the resources to properly deliver housing programs, the corporation will look at ways to restructure, including an examination of local housing organizations – which provide public housing services to tenants in 30 communities – and whether better models exist.
Improved training will be devised, including in the areas of dealing with hostile behaviour and trauma-informed service delivery.
Attracting and retaining staff, passing on knowledge between employees, and improving communication both internally and with the public are other goals outlined.
The housing corporation’s programs and policies will be reviewed to meet the new mandate of the department. Changes are scheduled to come into effect on April 1, 2023.
“The programs and policies of the NWTHC should be client-centred, transparent, and delivered in a way that meets standards of administrative fairness,” the strategy states.
“There may be a perception that NWTHC programming is not as innovative as it could be and may simply repackage old ideas.”
Even so, the corporation said it will “set and communicate realistic expectations – limited resources mean the NWTHC will not be able to address all needs.”
More program information for applicants will be a priority, while the corporation says exceptions to policies should become a rare occurrence.
Year-round applications for programs will no longer exist. Instead, programs will have fixed application periods to ensure decisions are made fairly and are covered by the corporation’s resources.
Lastly, the corporation said it no longer wants to be perceived as “competing” with Indigenous governments for housing opportunities instead of collaborating with them.
“Improving communication at all stages will be critical to building these partnerships and, in some cases, correcting erroneous perceptions,” the strategy states, adding the corporation’s relationship with the federal government needs “revitalization.”
Recognizing housing has been used as a colonial tool in the past, the corporation pledges to better engage with Indigenous governments and housing groups on the type and location of housing projects, help to advance self-government, and communicate messages in traditional languages.