After what’s been called a “multi-year process,” the Town of Hay River and Housing NWT have officially launched a five-year community housing plan.
The plan is being touted as a way to address the community’s unique housing needs, increase housing supply, and improve affordability for residents, according to a press release from the GNWT on April 13.
The strategy has some lofty targets with a focus on multi-family units. A total of 140 units have been targeted and 20 per cent of all new builds will be duplexes instead of single-family homes. There is also a goal of returning brownfield sites – land which has already been developed, but now sits unused – and vacant government lots to residential use.
Seniors housing will also be a priority with a planned 30 new seniors units, along with two new community projects to improve home accessibility.
Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer, said it may seem like a big target, but there are ways to get it done.
“There’s a new 40-unit suite opening up downtown and that’s scheduled to be ready by 2024,” he said. “The Fraser Place development is also nearly there. We’re working on the underground development — phone lines, electricity — and that’s scheduled to be ready by 2024 and that’s another 29 units.”
There are also the Aspen Heights and Sundog developments, he added, and that would also help in the attaining of the goal.
But the big piece of the puzzle, if it comes together, is Mackenzie Place, better known as the Hay River highrise.
Heritage Valley Capital, an Edmonton-based real estate development company, bought the building in January 2022 from Satdeo Inc. and it has been out of commission since March 2019 following a fire on the 11th floor. More than 100 tenants were displaced because of the blaze.
Smith said there have been meetings between the town and the new owners and he’s optimistic something can be done there.
“The highrise is a big part of the equation, but we’re not relying solely on that,” he said. “We don’t want to put all of our eggs into one basket, but having those units would definitely be a game-changer.”
The town has made a commitment to try and build the local economy through employment. Specifically, there are goals to increase the number of contractors and housing maintainers in the town by 10 per cent, a 20 per cent increase in apprenticeships and the reinstatement of the Schools North Apprentice Program at Diamond Jenness Secondary School.
The town will be leading implementation of the plan with support from Housing NWT and other groups in the community. The plan was put together by Phillpot Consulting and PlanIt North, both of which are based in Yellowknife.
The town has also committed to updating its bylaws and ensure any future planning will be resilient to flooding and forest fires.
Year one of the plan will see a new full-time position known as the housing co-ordinator/project manager with other jobs possibly including a pathfinder position, which is designed to support “unhoused and vulnerable community members in navigating wellness programs and services,” and a seniors navigator to “support outreach and communications to seniors with program providers, streamline funding applications, and create program stability and continuity.”
The report indicates that the town has enough land to support projected growth over the next 20 years, but the barriers include the cost of clearing land and preparing necessary infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewage.
The planning process began in 2021 with a community housing needs assessment that looked at the current situation in the community. That was followed by a combination of in-person and virtual community engagement between November 2021 and February 2022. Feedback from that was taken to get a better idea on strengths, weaknesses and benefits and was part of a draft document on goals and objectives.
An advisory committee oversaw the planning with West Point First Nation, K’atl’odeeche First Nation, Hay River Metis Government Council and Hay River Seniors Society, among others.
A community open house and two-day forum was held in October 2022, along with a meeting with West Point First Nation, to get additional feedback.
Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said ensuring safe, affordable, and diverse housing was defined as a top priority of town council.
“The release of the Hay River Strategic Housing Plan sets in motion a plan to recognize the many opportunities and evolving demand for housing in Hay River,” Jameson said. “We thank Housing NWT and the many businesses, organizations, and individuals who participated in the development of the plan and look forward to working with our partners to transform housing supply in the community.”