The ownership of six houses on the Hay River Reserve has been transferred to K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) from the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.
The official hand-over ceremony took place on Aug. 30.
The houses, which have stood empty since being built 17 years ago, have been recently renovated.
KFN had expressed an interest in obtaining the units and using them for its own housing program.
Five of the units will be residences, while the remaining unit is designated as a local housing office.
Speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Chief April Martel called it a special day and a “wonderful opportunity” that KFN has been seeking for many years.
Catherine Heron, the band manager with KFN, told The Hub that the band council can decide if the houses are rented or sold.
“And they haven’t made a determination, yet,” she said.
Heron was asked about the fact that the houses have stood empty for 17 years since being built.
“The fact that they were empty so long is a shame, actually,” she said. “The unfortunate thing is we have multiple families living in one household. So had these been open sooner we may not have had the housing crisis that the reserve has.”
Two basic reasons are often given for why the homes remained empty for so long.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, former chief Roy Fabian pointed to the eligibility criteria of the NWT Housing Corporation.
“The way the program works, our people were falling between the cracks,” he said, noting that some didn’t have the income to meet the criteria to buy one of the houses.
However, Tom Williams, the president of the housing corporation, pointed to the jurisdictional complications of the houses being on a reserve.
“I think a lot of the issues we ran into is because they’re sitting on a reserve, on reserve lands,” he said.
The housing corporation was trying to get land tenure for the six units, he noted. “And it was taking too long, and we said, ‘Well, let’s just transfer them.'”
That transfer to KFN took place for a nominal fee of $1.
The corporation is also renovating 10 other housing units on the Hay River Reserve after obtaining land tenure in the form of a land lease from the federal government. They will be re-established as public housing under the corporation.
Williams noted the six units transferred to the band are in very good shape.
“No one ever lived in them,” he said, adding they just needed repairs to some vandalism and painting.
“The other 10 they were used as public housing in the past,” Williams said. “So there’s more extensive renovations.”
However, he also noted that some of those 10 other units sat empty for years.
Williams said work on those 10 units is underway and it is hoped to be completed in the next couple of months.
Overall, the renovations to the six units turned over to KFN and the 10 to remain under the housing corporation cost the territorial government about $1.5 million.
The project was managed by Arcan Construction.
Renovations were fast-tracked in order to provide temporary accommodation for tenants displaced by the March fire at the Mackenzie Place highrise in Hay River.
“All of a sudden 125 people were displaced, so we had to look at solutions, and one of the short-term solutions was working with KFN to get the repairs done on the 16 units,” said Williams. “So that helped expedite getting the resources to fix the 16 units and get them on stream. It might have took a couple of years, but we did it in six months.”
The corporation president speculated that some KFN members now living in Hay River might move to the reserve because of the additional housing, and that may open up some housing in the town.
Alfred Moses, the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and for addressing homelessness, was also on hand for the transfer of the six units to KFN.
“The Government of the NWT committed in its mandate for the last four years to develop options to support Indigenous government in their housing aspirations – and this transfer, proposed by the First Nation themselves, is proof of that commitment,” Moses said in a news release.