The legislative assembly passed on Wednesday a motion calling on the GNWT to prioritize a review of the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) as part of its Government Renewal Initiative.
The NWTHC is also urged to update its policies to reflect the role it plays in social wellness and include referrals to appropriate government programs prior to evicting residents.
The motion was moved by Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland and seconded by Inuvik-Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler, during an assembly session dedicated to the theme of housing.
It passed with 10 votes in favour and zero against, with the seven members of cabinet abstaining.
“The administration of housing affects every single community in the territory,” said Cleveland.
“Housing is a social determinant of health, and it must be treated as such by this government. Until the Housing Corporation incorporates and acknowledges the relationship between housing and health and well being into its policies and practices, the NWTHC will not benefit our residents to its fullest potential.”
While discussing her motion, Cleveland cited the 2019 NWT Community Survey that found almost half of all households in the territory have at least one major problem.
Support of MLAs
Semmler, in supporting the motion said Indigenous people in the NWT are at higher risk of homelessness and problems such as addictions, low educational outcomes and family violence can’t be overcome without proper housing for people.
“In the last cabinet, I never felt like housing was a top priority for them. I think it has changed with this cabinet,” said Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly.
“We have to have the case ready and the ask ready and make that the priority when we go to Ottawa. It’s not about big infrastructure projects, it’s about housing,” he said.
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said that in his region there are people living in substandard homes that were built as far back as the 1970’s, and others living in “makeshift shacks” due to housing shortages.
Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson called for an end to “lip service” when it comes to housing and a start to concrete action.
“We need more (housing) units. How we get them – I don’t really care. It’ll help people out (and) give people a chance at life and give their children a chance. We need to stop the BS and get out there and make things happen. We don’t need more studies.”
Premier dismisses cabinet shuffle idea
Simpson had earlier in the session suggested that Premier Caroline Cochrane shuffle cabinet because NWTHC Minister Paulie Chinna “and her senior bureaucrats do not seem to grasp that a housing crisis exists. If it is the senior bureaucrats who are the problem, then I would ask the Premier to make a change at that level.”
Cochrane responded that she isn’t going to consider a cabinet shuffle.
“I know that the minister of housing has so much passion for housing, but I know that housing is an issue. I did meet with the housing team, and I met with the Minister in December. We talked about the changes that needed to happen to the Housing Corporation. We talked about the change of policies that were needed and the change of focus that has to happen.
“I will do what is necessary to make sure, before the end of this assembly, that we have more houses on the ground and that we address – not all, I’m not naive, but that we start addressing the housing needs of the NWT.”
The GNWT has 120 days to provide a response to the motion.