Current Problems


‘I should have owned a house by now’: The struggle to find affordable housing in the N.W.T.

May 15, 2024

‘We’re entertaining the possibility of camping out,’ says one couple.

APTN News: Ryan Heron and his partner have packed up the last of their belongings from their three-bedroom home on K’atl’odeeche First Nation in the Northwest Territories.

Their landlord has decided to move back in.

Heron’s family paid a reasonable $1,000 per month for rent, which is considered low nowadays. In exchange, they also helped fix up the house and backyard.

“The difficult part isn’t having to move out,” Heron said. “Yeah, that was a challenge to say the least, but it was when it come down to actually trying to look for a place, it was $2,100 for what they labelled as a single unit.”

Most of the rental listings were located off the reserve in the town of Hay River.

KFN has 600 members, with 300 residing in the community and many others living 20 minutes away in the town of Hay River.

Heron’s family is on a waitlist for a plot of land to build a house on. However, due to a sudden eviction, they will temporarily house-sit for a relative in Yellowknife.

“We’re entertaining possibly camping out there, so that’s a couple months if these first two don’t work out, after that, then we’re going to have to think something for winter,” he said.

According to the 2023 Hay River Strategic Housing Plan, the new housing supply is at its lowest point in 60 years.

The report concludes this stifles the growth of the Southern Slave Regional Center by slowing down socio-economic progress, restricting job opportunities, and causing understaffing in schools and hospitals.

The document cites a lack of contractors and high costs of hiring and building materials as significant barriers to housing development and homeownership.

After a fire in 2019 that forced 150 people from their homes, the only tall building in town is still empty.

Meanwhile, a 44-unit apartment building is set to open on July 1. The rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,100 per month, while a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is priced at $2,600.

Over the past few years, the federal government has provided tens of millions of dollars for public housing in the territory.

Even with the investments, renters still have a long list of issues.

Caroline Arcand, who Métis from Hay River, has been renting from NWT Housing Corporation for almost 30 years.

She showed APTN News around the front of her house, highlighting watermarks from roof leaks, a damaged plywood ramp at the entrance, and the remnants of a storm door that was taken out years ago because it would freeze shut in winter.

“I don’t even know how much I paid into housing, I should have owned a house by now,” Arcand said. “There are people living in their houses, paying good money and there are things that need to be done, so give us what we need.”

Her rent is determined by her and her son’s tax returns. However, the amount she has paid since the pandemic has varied due to fluctuations in contract work. This inconsistency makes it challenging to predict the exact amount she will owe for the $1,600 market rent, in addition to her utilities.

But what worries Arcand the most is the condition of her dirty air vents, which have not been cleaned for years. She presents APTN with a doctor’s note requesting prompt action to enhance the air quality in her unit, as her allergies have worsened.

“The doctor asked are you having problems breathing right now. I said, well I am doing a lot of spitting, one night I woke up and had to spit out black.”

Canada’s auditor general says her office will investigate the housing corporation later this year.

Adam Swanson, who has been with the Hay River Housing Authority since 2012, welcomes scrutiny.

As acting manager, he acknowledged the complexities and challenges within the territorial system.

“What we need most is transitional housing, especially for the vulnerable population that’s suffering homelessness, someone dealing with severe trauma or that is off getting treatment for addictions,” Swanson said. “We have 49 total approved applications right now, but that’s really not indicative of the need.”

He explained that social housing waitlists are often used as a bellwether for the need, but many fall between the cracks, barriers that stop individuals from applying in the first place.

“Say if we had a homeless population that’s out on the street right now of 10 people, I would think that maybe one or two of them are on our waiting list,” Swanson said. “Others may have been evicted and don’t want to apply again, or maybe they owe money they can’t pay it back and therefore their application is declined.”

The remaining rental options do not include the essential social services essential for the homeless population. Even programs like Housing First can lead to clients accumulating overwhelming debts.

According to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, almost half of the homes in the territory are either in poor condition, not suitable for the number of occupants, or too expensive.

“From an Indigenous standpoint, another thing that’s missing is multi-generational housing and the corporation needs to come up with a way to build housing that can adequately house a grandmother and maybe her son and their family as well,” he said.

The local housing authority, managed by the NWT Housing Corporation, oversees a total of 194 units. These include 157 public housing units, 13 units for the homeownership entry-level program, two market rental units, 12 RCMP units, and 10 units for KFN.

Swason mentioned that while the authority added four new units in November 2023, most of our housing stock, especially the detached houses, is in poor condition.

He mentioned that due to the high maintenance costs, tenants are unlikely to purchase their units or have the financial capability to afford mortgages.

“Our budget is set out by the corporation every year, and hasn’t changed in a very, very long time,” Swanson said. “If say a furnace goes in a unit or a boiler system goes into duplex, that is the maintenance budget for that duplex plus another 25 units for that whole year.

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