NWT cabinet ministers were warned of losing the housing project at Arnica Inn almost a month before a $4 million funding proposal was rejected by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
A letter sounding the alarm – addressed to Housing Minister Paulie Chinna, Premier Caroline Cochrane, and Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek – was written by a group of notable concerned citizens on Jan. 20 as they warned of losing a chance at the Yellowknife Women’s Society’s plans to convert Arnica Inn into a 42-unit transitional housing project to help homeless residents enter the rental market.
“We are on the precipice of losing a tremendous opportunity,” the concerned citizens wrote weeks in advance of the surprise rejection.
On Feb. 14, their fears came to pass as the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) informed the society it was backing out because the NWT Housing Corporation didn’t support the project, according to society executive director Bree Denning.
Signatories to the letter include the likes of David Connelly, president of consultancy firm Ile Royale Enterprises, and Kelly Kaylo, a former assistant deputy minister with the Department Industry, Tourism and Investment.
Its other signatories are Linda Bussey, executive director of La Federation Franco-Tenoise and a former city councillor, Hassan Adam, owner of Adam Dental Clinic, Mike Scott, former Northern News Services general manager, and architect Gino Pin.
Their signatures don’t appear to be offered in the capacity of their positions.
The letter notes every level of government — municipal, territorial, and federal — supported the project and implored the NWT Housing Corporation to back it.
In an email to NNSL Media sent Thursday evening, Connelly was shaking his head at the now sunken project.
“I cannot understand why all governments are not pulling together to enable this solution rather than letting process derail something which is the right thing to do for so many reasons and particularly for those without a warm and safe place to sleep tonight,” Connelly wrote.
In a response to their letter dated and tabled in the legislative assembly Feb. 25, Chinna appears to indicate the CMHC had decided the project fell below its standards, and that housing corp. was bound to its decision.
“Regrettably, through its review process, the federal government has determined that the application failed to meet their program requirements,” Chinna wrote in the letter.
The territorial government depends on its federal counterpart to “conduct due diligence in assessing the viability of the project,” she continued.
The GNWT accepted the federal decision and encouraged the project be resubmitted and amended, she wrote. If the project is sustainable in the long-term, the GNWT will support its re-submission, she added.
There’s some wrinkles to that route. Namely, the women’s society has a March 31 deadline to purchase the motel and CMHC re-submissions have a 300-day turnaround.
A normal timeline would effectively shutter the project if the society doesn’t receive bridge funding to purchase the motel outright before its deadline.
In her letter, Chinna acknowledged the lengthy turnaround and said her government was “working to suggest ways that the federal government can shorten the application process, specifically for northern proponents.”
The federal government’s detail-heavy review process takes time, though, she wrote, and “is not amenable to quick transactions and expedited decisions.”
Connelly stated to NNSL Media that he wasn’t satisfied with the minister’s letter and the response to the project’s potential to address homelessness in Yellowknife, which affects 338 people, according to a City of Yellowknife 2018 count.
He said Chinna’s letter offered zero guidance “on what needs to be improved and why or how the application after a year of review fell short.”
“No offer … to go to bat for this homelessness solution with the federal government and not a mention of accepting the concerned citizens’ offer of assistance,” he wrote.