Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is working on a new housing strategy and wants the town to sign on, alongside the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.
Representatives from NWTHC showed council what they hoped to accomplish during Inuvik town council’s July 14 committee of the whole meeting.
“What we would do is write a terms of reference and have it approved by the town, the IRC and the GTC to then go out and get a consultant that can support the actual work on the ground,” explained NWTHC community housing planning manager Janelle Derksen.”We see the Town of Inuvik as signing on to a participation agreement with us as well as the IRC and the GTC to co-develop a strategy a housing strategy for Inuvik, to participate in updates and presentations as we do this work.”
Key features of the plan include developing a housing plan authority committee, hiring a consultant to facilitate community engagement and recording that information through focus groups, housing groups and activity for all ages. The plan is to find out where the gaps in housing are.
Establishing a strong housing plan requires good data, noted Derksen, so the first step is to take a deep dive into the situation. The idea is to support community-led housing planning and help communities access funding through the Federal Housing Strategy.
NWTHC is building on on the Whatì Housing Plan, which was adopted in March of 2020. A housing plan essentially forms the base of an action plan based on its respective community housing priorities and demographics.
Should the town sign a participation agreement, it would then be party to ongoing presentations and be able to provide feedback on the findings. NWTHC would in turn develop the partnership with the GTC and IRC, and employ a consultant to develop the committee, collect data on the town and draft the housing plan. Ultimately, it will fall on the town to adopt any housing plan and implement its own commitments.
“We would like the town to lead implementation on the things that they can do,” said Derksen. “But there are also other partners in the room who will have their own set of action items, so by saying ‘lead implementation’ it really means lead the action items that the town is designated to do.”
Nonprofits and private homebuilders are also to be consulted throughout the process, noted Derksen.
At this point, NWTHC is at the pre-planning phase, having just wrapped up presentations with stakeholders. Once there is an agreement of what needs to be done, they will look towards hiring a consultant.
“This strategy is all funded by the housing corporation,” said Derksen. “Once it’s completed we’ll look at writing proposals for funding, so this strategy work can help build evidence for proposals for housing projects.”
Billions in loans on the table
All this is to take advantage of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s National Co-Investment Fund, which was devised in 2018 and is available until 2028. CMHC housing solutions specialist Bright Lubansa said there was $13 billion available.
CMHC provides up to $500,000 worth of “seed funding” for housing projects, which is a combination of $150,0000 in contribution and $350,000 in interest-free loans. This can be put towards pre-construction work, ranging from consulting to proposals to business plans to legal fees and determining costs of actual construction — what Lubsana called soft costs. He added the $13 billion fund was divided into $8.65 billion in loans and $4.52 billion in capital grants.
“Our program is a loan first program,” said Lubsana. “However, it does have contributions attached to it.
“When we are assessing a client, we assess them on the ability for them to service the loan and once they qualify them to be able to service the full funding of the project. Then we divide that into contributions and loans.”
Lubsana said seed funding was available to “everybody, everyone and every entity that is willing to create affordable housing,” ranging from all levels of government to the private sector.
Seed funding can also be put towards the soft costs of restoration and repair projects, assuming they’re being restored for the purposes of affordable housing. Projects must have a minimum five bedrooms and must be primarily for residential use. Mixed-use buildings are permitted, but CMHC will typically not fund any development of the non-residential portion of the building.
“The only situation where we can consider the non-residential space to be covered is if that space is an integral part of the residence and for programming,” said Lubsana. “For example, if it’s a shelter you’ve got maybe space for offices there or if it were a transition home you’ve got a programming space.”
Proposals must also be partnerships, with a minimum of two levels of government involvement. All projects are reviewed for financial viability and must be affordable, with a minimum of 30 units priced at no more than 80 per cent of the market rate. Additional units are free to be rented at normal market rates.
Projects must also be energy efficient and a minimum of 20 units must be be fully accessible to people with reduced mobility.
Yellowknife’s Avens Pavilion, now under construction, was funded in part using seed funding from the CMHC, which contributed $33.7 million. It has 102 units of affordable housing for seniors, divided between 92 single bedroom units and 10 tw0-bedroom units.
Interested home builders must first develop a housing concept and then complete a 200-question application form. Applications are then placed through a 14-day preliminary review and a financial analysis which could take up to 125 days. Should the project clear these hurdles, they can expect a letter of intent to commit the funding within 60 more days and a contract 30 days after that, with the final funding agreement received within 60 days.
Councillors accepted the presentation as information.
“It is interesting to see how it can all work and and how many proponents can be involved,” said Mayor Natasha Kulikowski. “We need to have the housing strategy in place before we start applying for funding, but certainly it gives you hope on how you could see things come to fruition over time.”