The $40 billion National Housing Strategy, while important in addressing the needs across the country, will mean something quite different in the North where building houses is a complicated business and at times, an impossible task to fulfill.

And the housing situation in the North is grim as two recent surveys show.

The 2016 National Household Survey states the territory’s need for adequate housing sits at 18.1 per cent. The survey explains adequate as meaning “the physical condition of the dwelling, i.e. if it is in need of major repairs.”

Inadequate housing results in a variety of health and social problems, such as increased incidents of tuberculosis, crime and mental health issues, as a March 2017 Senate report explains.

A second survey by Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Statistics Canada reported last month that the NWT is second only to Nunavut with 2,255 people, about 15.5 per cent of the population, with core housing needs. The CMHC lists those core needs as “households living in dwellings considered inadequate in condition, not suitable in size, and unaffordable.”

The NWT Housing Corporation has been unable to meet the demand. Its 2016 annual report states the corporation has demolished 51 units and sold 43 rundown units since 2014 while only building 41 new units in various communities for a net decrease of 53 homes.

The $1.3-million paid up-front for 19 homes built by Concept Energy Services in Hay River failed to produce even one completed unit for communities in need. And although three partially completed units made it to Ulukhaktok and one partially completed unit is waiting to head to Fort McPherson, those homes will have to go to tender again before they can be completed.

These homes will take care of one per cent of Ulukhaktok’s 40 per cent need for adequate housing and Fort McPherson will have .01 per cent of its needs met. At that rate, we can only offer a failing grade.

Between Jan. 1 and April 1, the population in the NWT grew naturally by 118 people. A housing survey by the NWT Bureau of Statistics indicates 10.5 per cent of NWT homes are overcrowded. In some communities, such as Jean Marie River, that figure is 50 per cent.

With the number of non-market homes being built in the territory it seems impossible for the supply end to catch up with the demand in communities.

The soaring costs of maintaining those homes already available, the uncertainty of whether the Liberal government’s $40 billion promise will survive with future governments and CHMC’s decision to cut off funding to the NWT by 2037 – these factors all indicate trouble ahead for the territory’s housing needs.

It needs to be spelled out clearly to the rest of Canada that the NWT doesn’t just have a homelessness problem, it has a housing problem – one that approaches Third World conditions in some communities.

This is a national shame and must be made a priority if the country envisions parity between north and south.

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