Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, which was hoping to convert the Arnica Inn into a 42-unit transitional housing project before that plan was rejected last week, says Housing Minister Paulie Chinna’s long awaited response Tuesday “was pretty baffling.”

She took issue with the minister not having seen the feasibility study or application, and her encouragement to the society to get in touch with NWT Housing Corporation to discuss the project.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) ultimately rejected the women’s society’s $4 million request for funding for the project, igniting a strong response from Mayor Rebecca Alty on her Facebook page Friday who faulted housing corp. for CMHC’s decision not to back it.

Denning had told media part of the reason why the housing project was rejected is because housing corp. had expressed concerns about its viability.

“It seems like there’s a lot of criticism on us for not reaching out before,” said Denning after watching Chinna answer questions on the project in the legislative assembly Tuesday.

That is confusing to me,” Denning said, arguing the society had been in contact with housing corp. on the motel since last March.

Further, the feasibility study, according to Denning, was submitted prior to a society meeting with the government on Jan 22. The environmental site assessment was filed soon after that meeting, she said.

Yellowknifer requested confirmation of this information from housing corp., which didn’t immediately respond.

Denning also downplayed the minister’s proposed solution of reapplying for the CMHC funding. A 300-day turnaround on the application process means solely submitting the application to CMHC isn’t tenable, she said.

“As far as CMHC is concerned this conversation is over. We can reapply, but we don’t really have that kind of timeline,” she said.

Chinna acknowledged in the legislative assembly that she should have been more involved in a plan to convert the Arnica Inn into a 42-unit transitional housing project.

The minister, who had not publicly commented on the failed funding request since the news erupted last week, was grilled in the assembly by MLAs Julie Green, Rylund Johnson, Jackson Lafferty and Caitlin Cleveland.

The minister said she hadn’t seen the women’s society’s application nor a feasibility study the CMHC deemed insufficient.

Green was left scratching her head at the apparent lack of communication between housing corp. and its federal counterpart at CMHC. The women’s society’s application additionally requested $660,000 from the GNWT.

“I find it very puzzling that there’s no way of sharing information between CMHC and (housing corp.) when both are anticipated investors in this project,” Green said.

For her part, Chinna said she would like to be more involved with the process moving forward.

“There should have been more involvement. There should have been more communication,” Chinna admitted.

Cabinet spokesperson Trista Haugland confirmed the housing minister had only responded to Alty by letter on Tuesday. The minister told MLAs she was travelling last week, which inhibited communication.

The minister said the women’s society must address issues over missing information, the long term viability of the project and affordability concerns.

Arnica Inn is valued at $3 million.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

The organization had originally asked for $2.25 million from CMHC and $600,000 from housing corp. but upped the request to $4 million and $660,000 respectfully after concluding the aging Arnica Inn required substantial renovations.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘denied’ because they are encouraged to resubmit,” said Chinna.

To move forward, the society needs the project’s approval by the end of March.

Johnson, however, said CMHC’s turnaround is well past that deadline when considering a resubmitted application. He called for the minister to contact CMHC and inform it of housing corp’s support.

Paulie Chinna

Chinna responded that the women’s society ought to contact NWT Housing. The minister said she needed to see the application, but avoided making a clear commitment to funding the project without a funding commitment from CMHC.

There are two paths forward for the project, according to Denning. The first, which Chinna avoided overtly committing to on Tuesday, is the territorial government asking CMHC to reverse its decision.

The second is the government providing bridge funding that would allow the society to purchase the motel, and buying it enough time to reapply with CMHC.

Denning, however, was confused. She still hasn’t heard what the exact issues NWT Housing Corp. had with the project, especially now that the minister said there would be no concerns if the society reapplied. Granted, the building was old, she said, but the motel’s age shouldn’t sink the project.

“If there were to be an issue with the building five, 10, (or) 20 years from now, that’s five, 10 (or) 20 years people would spend not being homeless,” she said.

“We’ve wasted a lot of time and energy trying to provide solutions.”

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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