With 49 percent of Paulatuk households reporting at least one housing issue in 2019, the hamlet is looking to improve the quality of housing. That’s a feat made harder by the changing climate and inaccessible housing programs.
The territorial government has committed to developing housing plans with all 33 communities in the NWT, which will include information on community needs and applicable housing programs.
Once complete, the plans should make it easier to identify housing solutions and get funding. Whatì was the first community to develop a housing plan in 2019.
The housing plan was first adopted in July 2021 and released late last year. The Hamlet of Paulatuk, the Paulatuk Community Corporation, and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation worked together to collect and prepare the information.
There are approximately 300 people in Paulatuk living in about 90 households, 70 of which are rental units.
About two-thirds of homes in the community are public housing, while 25 percent are privately-owned, and 10 percent staff housing for government and other employees.
‘Many units are overcrowded, houses are in disrepair’
The report states the most significant housing issues in the community are homes needing repairs, and homes lacking adequate space or bedrooms.
As of March 2020, 17 households were on the waitlist for public housing, in need of one or two-bedroom units. Many people who do not have housing couch surf at the homes of friends and family – because there are no formal emergency shelters in Paulatuk – which can result in overcrowding.
A 2019 housing report said 21 homes didn’t have enough space for the number of occupants and 29 needed fixing. Four households said they struggled to afford auxiliary costs related to housing.
Nearly 17 percent of Paulatuk homes had six or more people living in them, more than triple the territorial average of five percent. The reports says overcrowding can cause ventilation issues resulting in mould.
“The housing stock in Paulatuk is aging with many houses 20 to 40 years old, and some close to 60 years old,” the report states. “With the harsh climate, maintenance on older units is a constant challenge.
“Many units are overcrowded, houses are in disrepair, and the design of houses are not meeting the needs of residents.”
One unnamed resident cited in the report said some community members have moved away because of the lack of housing.
Climate change and permafrost thaw
The housing crisis in Paulutuk is exacerbated by harsh and changing weather conditions.
Climate change has caused increasing wind speeds and accelerated permafrost thaw, which can cause damage to homes. It’s also a concern when it comes to community expansion and shoreline erosion.
The design of homes is crucial as storms can last for days – causing power outages that leave people without heat – and snowdrifts can block entrances trapping residents inside. Windows not meeting fire safety standards can also pose safety issues.
Residents noted they want to be involved in the design process for future homes to ensure they will meet the community’s needs.
Some action has been taken to revise building codes including mandating thicker gravel pads to help stabilize buildings, monitoring the thaw, and plans to rezone areas that will be less likely to have changing ground conditions.
Challenges accessing housing programs
The community’s housing strategy focuses on fixing derelict houses before building new ones, but residents have struggled to access relevant territorial housing programs. The programs are also said to be “under-utilized due to a lack of knowledge about them,” as they are not well-promoted.
Seven of 67 housing program applications were approved between 2006 and 2020, while 39 were declined, 11 were incomplete, and 10 were withdrawn.
The main reason why applications were denied was due to applicants having local housing office arrears. Almost half of public housing users in the community have arrears.
“One reason for high arrears is due to lack of documentation,” the report states. “If the proper documentation is not provided, the tenant may be charged maximum rent, leading to a build up of arrears.”
Additional reasons included having tax, lease or mortgage arrears; making too much or too little income; not having insurance or land tenure; budget limitations; high debt; and not meeting the residency requirement. `
Residents who don’t qualify for housing programs often can’t afford outside contractors to do repairs, so housing issues persist.
As Paulatuk is a fly-in community, supplies arrive by seasonal sea barge and planes, meaning getting housing materials is more difficult and makes projects more expensive.
The housing corporation has committed to reviewing its programs and policies to help meet it’s new “action-oriented” mandate.
When it comes to constructing new homes, land scarcity won’t be a major concern, but developing the lots will need to happen before anything get built.
Of the 111 residential lots in the community, 20 are vacant and just three prepared to build on. The housing corporation already has plans to use one of those lots.
“Lots have challenges such as [being] swampy, land erosion, uneven ground, too small, not subdivided, no power connection, no road access, or roadways cutting through the lot,” the report states.
Paulatuk was one of 12 communities the territorial government said will get four new builds as part of its plan to spend a contentious $60 million housing fund, which went virtually untouched for a year.
Moving forward, the report recommends increasing the amount of seniors’ housing in the hamlet to prepare for an expected increase of 28 elders in the next decade.
Over the next five years, the hamlet plans to build 17 new units, repair 30 houses, and weatherproof homes to withstand the wind and snow.