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NWT Housing Corp accused of 'bullying' after Fort Simpson board disbanded

Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo Tom Williams, president and CEO of the NWT Housing Corporation, said he’s optimistic the federal government’s new housing strategy will meet Northerner’s needs.

A former appointee of the recently disbanded Fort Simpson housing board is accusing the parent NWT Housing Corporation of "bullying."

Last week, the Fort Simpson Housing Authority, a community-based board that manages and delivers public housing services for Housing Corp., was replaced with a single administrator.

Tom Williams, CEO and manager of NWT Housing Corporation in Yellowknife, confirmed this week that the five-person housing authority board and local housing manager were “relieved of their duties." He characterized it as a "last resort" needed to deal with auditing problems identified by external auditors during the annual auditing process.

“We had some inefficiencies that came to our attention through the annual auditing process and issues raised by the external auditors,” Williams said. “We had asked the board and local housing authority to come up with an action plan to resolve the issues. They submitted it and it was inadequate to deal with the situation, so we had to take it to the next level (going into administration).”

Board members are typically nominated by the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation -- presently Alfred Moses -- who chooses members based on submissions from the board's nomination committee.

The board provides governance for the local housing manager who oversees everything from tenant relations, social housing occupants, collecting rent and handling finances.

Board positions have staggered terms to ensure consistency. In this case, three members had terms that ended in June and the corporation decided not to have them replaced. The remaining two individuals, however, were terminated while having time left on their terms.

"We just advised the two remaining board members that their services would not be needed while we are under administration." Williams said. "We had a meeting with them in person last week that provided a notification that we will be proceeding with administration."

Muaz Hassan, a prominent businessperson and village councillor, said he had about a year left to serve on the housing board. He questioned the corporation's reasons for dismissing the board. He said the deficit had been inherited and money was always properly spent on the local housing manager's salary and regular program costs.

He said the corporation's latest actions are simply due to it not liking the local board's decisions and amount to bureaucratic "bullying" and overreach into local decision-making.

"Our relationship with the housing corporation was kind of OK until they started the bullying and dictated whatever decisions of the board, even though we are an independent board," he said.

Williams said it is the job of the corporation to ensure all housing agencies are delivering programs on behalf of the public interest and said members of the recent board weren't doing that.

The Fort Simpson Housing Authority, one of two housing authorities in the Nahendeh region, has about a $1 million annual budget.

“This happens from time to time where one of our agencies gets into a little bit of trouble,” Williams said, noting that in Tulita in 2016, the corporation had to take over the functions of the local housing authority. At that time, after hiring a manager, the process took about a year until the books were turned around, he said. “Our recourse is, depending on the severity of what is happening with local housing or the association, we have measures where we can put in an administrator.”

One of 23 community boards across the NWT, the Fort Simpson Housing Authority manages close to 200 subsidized housing units in the Nahendeh region. This includes 91 public housing units which are to meet a growing demand among seniors at the Stanley Isaiah Housing Unit. There are also 17 affordable housing units and 12 market units or housing rented out to professionals in the community.

Williams said although most occupants are from Fort Simpson, the units serve surrounding communities such as Wrigley, Jean Marie River and Sambaa K'e.

Across the territory, there are 2,800 units of various sorts and currently a waiting list of 900 people, Williams said.

Williams estimates a six-month to one-year window where the administrator will review all operations of the local board, including finances, personnel, and ensuring contractors are paid and social programs properly managed.

Messages were left with the Minister Moses' office and the NWT Seniors Society, but responses were not available by press time.