April Desjarlais, owner of the Finn Hansen building next door to the day shelter and sobering centre, says she could soon be losing a longtime, pillar tenant as the lease for the Northwest Territories Association of Communities (NWTAC) is set to expire in May.

The NWT community advocacy group is one of five tenants in the office building on 50 Street that includes Desjarlais’ company Khione Resources Ltd., and the Yellowknife Housing Authority on the first floor and Cooper Regal, Lawyers and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board on the second floor.

Finn Hansen Building,
Feb. 4, 2019
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Desjarlais has owned the building since 2013 and she said since that time, she has aimed to contribute to downtown revitalization. She made headlines last year after complaining to city council about incidents of public drunkenness, violence and unsafe conditions stemming from the shelter, which opened its doors in fall 2018.

At least one councillor at the meeting suggested the city should revoke the shelter’s conditional use permit if its management couldn’t control the violence and bad behaviour from affecting neighbouring properties.

The association of communities issued “A Request for Proposal”  in the Jan. 31 edition of Yellowknifer “requesting written proposals from qualified parties for the provision of office space.”

Mayor Rebecca Alty is vice-president of the organization. Yellowknifer sought comment from her but she did not respond.

NWTAC is taking proposals until March 31. Desjarlais, as the current landlord has the option of applying for the RFP in hopes of retaining the NWTAC as tenants, but she said she finds the development “extremely frustrating.”

April Desjarlais, owner of the Finn Hansen building next door to the Yellowknife day shelter and sobering centre on 50 Street, may be losing a tenant as the Northwest Territories Association of Communities inquires about new office space.
NNSL photo

“It is extremely frustrating and sad for me that I could be losing some pillar tenants who have been here a long time,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.

“One hundred per cent, if we do lose NWTAC, it is due to the shelter, yes.

“With the NWTAC they certainly do have concerns about safety and they have expressed (the potential of) leaving this building, so safety is definitely the number one reason. It has nothing to do with us as a landlord in the building in terms of inside and stuff. It is solely about the safety of the shelter.”

The association has been a tenant of the building since 2008 and currently staffs seven people – all of them women. Desjarlais said there are more women in the building than there are men.

Sarah Brown, CEO of NWTAC, which advocates for municipal and community issues across the territory, said on Monday that there have “absolutely” been complaints from her staff about the sobering centre and social conditions on the street, however she said those issues aren’t the only thing triggering the potential move.

“There are definitely issues in the area but that is not solely driving us at all,” said Brown. “The lease is up and it is appropriate to evaluate what is happening with the market.”

Brown said the association last signed a two-year renewal, although the time period for leases have varied in the past. She said the association wants to take a look to see if there could be better spaces in terms of location or affordability, but added the NWTAC has not issued a request for proposals to evaluate the market for office space until now.

Although a territorial organization, she said the office plans to stay in Yellowknife –  preferably downtown – due to its close proximity to the legislative assembly.

Asked if an all-female staff provided added difficulties with providing a safe workplace, Brown said it is complicated.

“It is complicated for sure but I think anyone would have a comparable vulnerability,” she said, adding that would not provide her personal reflection.

“I have to make comments as an association and not my personal.”

Good Neighbour Agreement

Desjarlais’ attempts last year to draw attention to social conditions on the street led to the signing of a Good Neighbour Agreement in October that would, among other things, involve community leaders coming together to reduce harm to individuals in the area, protect property, and enhance safety. The City of Yellowknife is also a signatory.

Asked if she thought social conditions were improving since the Good Neighbour Agreement was signed last year, Brown declined comment.

“I don’t think it is my place to comment on that and that you should speak to the building owner,” she said.

Desjarlais said she has long been concerned about potentially losing a tenant because of the proximity of the day shelter and sobering centre.

At the same time, Desjarlais said conditions seem to have improved since the Good Neighbour Agreement, although in some cases it may be difficult to tell given the extreme cold weather pushing people inside.

“Since the agreement was signed we certainly have seen some positive change and we meet every month as a committee group,” she said, noting that the committee is made up of herself, and representatives from the GNWT departments of Justice and Health and Social Services, the City of Yellowknife and the RCMP.

“We have certainly seen some positive changes and good open dialogue of communications and from that we have seen the (NWT Disabilities Council) street patrol group, which came from the good neighbourhood agreement. We felt we needed some added support in the perimeter of the day shelter so that street patrol group is out daily.”

She said the group could soon be out on Saturdays as well.

Desjarlais said with the work the committee has done and some of policy changes at the day shelter, she thinks she can retain her tenants.

“I remain optimistic that these kinds of positive changes will encourage our tenants to see some of the changes and that they won’t leave our building,” she said.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.