In a sitting of the Legislative Assembly dedicated to housing issues on Thursday, MLAs said the Northwest Territories needs to find new approaches to get housing, stop its reliance on private landlords, and work harder to address problems across the territory.
Just under one year ago, MLAs said the NWT must do better to prioritize housing, saying progress toward solving the housing crisis seemed too slow. Regular MLAs ultimately passed a motion calling for a review of the NWT Housing Corporation and more work to recognize housing’s role in ensuring the social wellness of the territory’s residents.
Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, said the territorial government has made “minimal progress” on housing over the last few decades. He hopes to see new strategies bring about positive change, including giving Indigenous governments more funding and control over housing for their communities.
“It is important to give a new approach flexibility that allows for adapting to change without having to start at square one,” he said.
Concerns about the size of public housing waiting lists were also voiced on Thursday.
No more lip service
Nanukput MLA Jackie Jacobson said housing was the main concern in his riding.
He said in Paulatuk, which recently had a community housing plan established, sees about 10 percent of its population without homes or having to couch surf. He said there are currently 29 people on the housing waitlist in the community.
“We can’t have lip service no more,” he said. “We have to look at a different way. All I’ve heard in this last week I’ve been here is our government’s broke.”
Earlier in the week, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said the proposed territorial budget did not include enough funding for housing and he wanted to see at least $20 million included to tackle the crisis.
Chinna said the housing corporation is continuing to make partnerships to try and find more ways to bring additional housing money to the territory. She said the work that has been completed in the 19th Legislative Assembly to address housing needs is the most seen in decades, with “unprecedented levels” of housing coming to the territory.
“To date, we are going to be receiving a 90-unit delivery throughout the Northwest Territories, and I know this is not going to solve our housing issue, but it’s a great start,” she said.
Chinna also confirmed the $60 million carve-out of the National Housing Co-Investment Fund has been spent. In March 2021, it was announced $34.5 million would be given to Indigenous governments to build or repair 66 units, and $25.5 million to the housing corporation to create 60 units.
Chinna said the $34.5 million allotted for Indigenous governments went to the Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę First nation, Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, Hamlet of Tulita, Yellowknives Dene First Nation ,and the Fort Good Hope Dene Band.
Housing corporation renewal, new mission statement
Also on Thursday, Chinna announced a new mission statement for the housing corporation, recognizing its role in the social wellness of its clients. It includes six values for the corporation: client-focused, collaboration, accountability, innovation, reconciliation and sustainability.
“I realize that some people might say that a new mission, values and vision for the corporation is just a piece of paper,” Chinna said. “Our new mandate will serve as the measure of everything the corporation does – it will serve as a lens through which we undertake the review of the housing corporation’s policies and programs in the next steps of renewal.”
“It will also guide the corporation’s relationship with the public, with the clients, and with its partners as it strives to address the housing gap in the Northwest Territories.”
At a press conference following the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, Chinna said she is confident the housing corporation will be able to ensure the new vision is incorporated into its work. She added that cross-departmental work has already begun to make that happen.
“It’s going to start bringing departments together and starting the relationship with the communities and Indigenous groups on how to address strongly at the community level and meeting the needs of our people throughout the territory,” she said.
Build more housing, cut leases with private companies
Yellowknife MLAs voiced a common concern about the monopoly private companies, most notably Northview REIT, have on housing in the territory’s capital.
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said although it’s hard to narrow down exactly how much property the company owns, it’s estimated to possess about 50 to 80 percent of the residential and commercial rental market in Yellowknife.
She reminded MLAs housing prices in the city are at an all-time high.
A report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in November said the average home price rose to just under $486,000 in the second quarter of 2021. For renters not in public housing, the median rent payment increased by 2.2 percent, according to the report.
Coupled with supply chain issues during the pandemic causing the cost of construction and maintenance to increase, Nokleby said affordable housing is much needed.
“The terrible state of our housing market means that for far too long, residents, and in particular Indigenous residents, have had to choose between a roof over their heads or feeding their families; a choice that, in my opinion, is impossible to make and should be a source of deep shame for our government and nation,” she said.
Johnson said he believes the NWT government could better spend the money it gives to private companies for leases.
He said the solution should be to create more public housing units to bulk up the NWT’s stock and remove waitlists, which he said are “hundreds of people long.”
“Every time we build public housing, we free up units that we are currently renting,” he said.
“We all save money by building housing. We save it in health, we save it in justice, and we save it in income assistance.”
The territory’s housing corporation recently acquired the 24-unit Nordic Arms Apartments on Franklin Avenue from the YK1 school district. Chinna said the corporation sees it as a “huge opportunity” that will help with efforts to try and “relieve the leases we do hold with Northview.”
Chinna said, for now, the corporation is focused on providing housing in smaller communities outside of Yellowknife, but she has inquired about how much it would cost to construct a 164-unit apartment building – the approximate amount of leases the corporation holds with Northview for public housing.
“I would like to see the leases with Northview cancelled,” she said.