Last week, a motion directing Housing NWT to forgive arrears for Elders and residential school survivors passed in the legislature. This followed an announcement by two housing advocates to do the same for all Indigenous persons living under Housing NWT and the declaration of a state of emergency in the territory.

While the motion passed, cabinet abstained from voting and now has 120 days to decide to follow up.

Housing NWT told the legislature that the government agency is sitting on $16.5 million in arrears owing. Of that, $4.9 million is owed in mortgage payments and the other $11.6 million is back rent.

If you ever needed an example of how government programs effectively get set up to fail with broken ideas of how government operates, this is it. Somehow in the process of providing housing for Northerners, someone decided the project should recoup costs and as a consequence has sent its tenants into a lifetime of debt slavery.

This is pure madness. What is the point of social housing if it actively works against its tenants’ development? If the purpose of Housing NWT is to provide safe places for Northerners to live, grow and raise a family, piling on months and months of back rent in places where there is often no work prevents them from doing that.

How is a family supposed to finance their child’s education if they’re dealing with constant back rent? Or their own?

Charging arrears defeats the entire purpose of Housing NWT. It should cease this practice immediately and forgive all outstanding debts. And the GNWT needs to make funding it properly a priority.

As made blatantly obvious by Housing NWT Minister Paulie Chinna more or less begging someone, anyone, in Inuvik to take back the Homeless and Emergency Warming Shelters, the agency is obviously strapped for cash. Most of its inventory is over a quarter-century old and not worth repairing. In fairness to Housing NWT staff, they’re clearly doing the best they can with the inadequate budgets they’re given year after year.

Offloading operations of these shelters back to local nonprofits is not going to solve anything. It simply kicks the problem back to people who don’t have the resources to deal with it and creates bad blood when the failure they’re set up for happens. Until the GNWT and cabinet begin to take homelessness seriously and start putting money into Housing NWT to actually be able to do something, nothing will change.

We can’t just have a non-profit in each community responsible for the unhoused — we need an all-hands on approach with government-operated shelters enhancing the work of non-profit operations like Hope House and Indigenous governments like Inuvik Native Band, which can then focus on doing wonderful things like helping teach individuals how to make their own clothes, as they did this week.

To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, the advantage of government that it doesn’t have to make money. We need to drop this idea taxpayers are somehow disserviced when a government agency runs at a loss. Usually the benefits gained are far more valuable than money.

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Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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  1. I take exception to forgiving arrears having lived and continue to live in Public Housing for over 20 years and paying my rent faithfully like many others who have done the same thing, so can i stop paying my rent now in the hopes all will be forgiven ? is this not a form of discrimination towards those who paid there rents faithfully over many years ? does this not open a door to a possible class action lawsuit ? if Cabinet approve this i will explore all my options to seek fairness and a level playing field.

  2. First off you need to do research on the housing programs they write a couple is researched editorials. You comments are out of touch with the whole program. Throwing in the fact people need to educate their children when education if free in the NWT shows what?

  3. Nonsense.
    Nothing is free in this world. Nor should anything be free.
    Does not anyone have any pride in their own self being any longer?