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Public housing in crisis: reportMLA says the federal government is 'letting us down big time'
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 28, 2011
Nick Falvo, a doctoral candidate at Ottawa's Carleton University, has undertaken a study of homelessness and affordable housing in the NWT in partnership with the Centre for Northern Families.
"If the federal government does not announce new funding for housing soon, many of the housing units that exist today in the NWT will disappear," according to Falvo's report.
Based on a number of criteria, Falvo found that, compared to the rest of Canada, housing in Yellowknife is "a bit worse" and housing in small NWT communities is "much worse."
Falvo said the territorial government spends 25 times more on housing than the average Canadian province. He attributed this to the pervasiveness of poverty and the high cost of hydro and construction. The funding currently provided by the federal government to the NWT Housing Corporation (NWTHC) is inadequate, said Falvo. There are more than 400 households, or more 1,000 people, on the waiting list for public housing in the NWT.
Historically, the federal government has led in building social housing but it backed out of this commitment in the early 1990s, said Falvo. Since then, funding commitments have been short-term or one-off.
Meanwhile, operating agreements that have long been in place will expire completely in 2038, jeopardizing the existence of public housing, each unit of which requires $15,000 to $20,000 in operating costs per year to maintain.
Though all public units across Canada are at risk, declining federal funding will have especially dire consequences for the NWT, said Falvo.
Falvo made one major policy recommendation - the federal government should once again commit to long-term funding, he said.
A panel comprised of Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro; Centre for Northern Families executive director Arlene Hache; and Josh Campbell, consitituency assistant for MP Dennis Bevington, convened following Falvo's presentation.
Bisaro acknowledged the frustration over the high cost of housing in the NWT, saying, "I don't think there's anybody in this room that doesn't think that they pay too much either in rent or in upkeep for their home."
The results of the study were not surprising, she said. Bisaro reinforced Falvo's findings on the importance of federal dollars.
"I feel really strongly that the federal government is letting us down big time," she said.
"Unless we get a commitment from the federal government to re-instate the funding that they're currently providing to the territorial government we're going to be in great big trouble in my mind ... We'll either say, 'I'm sorry people we're closing these down,' and put everybody out onto the street or we'll turn them over to the people that live there and say, 'OK, fine, you pay for the upkeep.' And that's not going to happen. People just can't afford that."
Bisaro said the territorial government has not formally responded to Falvo's earlier report on homelessness she tabled in the assembly months ago.
"I need to give myself a bit of a kick in the rear to ask the government what they're going to do about those recommendations," she said.
Bisaro said she was concerned the GNWT's recent priority setting session was unduly focused on the economy at the expense of social issues. She was hopeful, though, that recommendations made by the housing corporation in its shelter policy review would help steer the territorial government toward more effective policy-making and provision of services.
Hache said she was still hoping for a national housing strategy, "Knowing that if we don't persuade the federal government to lay out their commitment to housing we will not stand a hope of surviving in any of the three territories, particularly the Northwest Territories and Nunavut."
Hache said she was impressed by recent efforts by the territorial government to transition empty homes to subsidized housing, calling it "a huge step forward" for the housing corporation. She did, however, take note of the absence of any representative from the NWTHC.
"I'm hoping that the housing corp. steps up and comes to the table because they're actually not here. And they need to be at the table in a real way to make sure we have a solution that works for everybody," she said.
Housing corp. CEO David Stewart was invited but did not attend due to a prior engagement. He provided a comment the next day, saying, "The NWTHC remains concerned about the declining CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) funding for social housing.
"The recent one-time federal investments in housing infrastructure, which were cost-shared equally with the GNWT, have provided important contributions to improving the overall housing stock in the NWT.
However, the long-term sustainability of the overall NWT public housing portfolio is impacted by the declining federal funding that supports the operations of these units ... The NWTHC appreciates the work done by Nick Falvo and finds his research useful in bringing attention to the issue."
Falvo presented his findings at city hall in Yellowknife, Thursday.