The City of Yellowknife is aiming to find long-term solutions through two recent federal funding programs that provide shelter for those most in need.
On Oct. 23, the City of Yellowknife was successful in obtaining $1.5 million from a Reaching Home Canada Strategy to End Homelessness, COVID-19 funding. That supplemented $500,000 the city had received earlier in the year.
On Dec. 7, council decided to hold off on a recommendation from the Community Advisory Board (CAB) on Homelessness to spend $300,000 of that money on rental and utility arrears and temporary rent supports for individuals and families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.
The other portion of that tabled motion included $812,100 to provide 20 shelter beds for individuals and 10 shelter rooms for families, or to rent hotel rooms and use them as shelter locations.
Wanting to focus on permanent housing solutions, the city has asked the federal government to review locally available housing units that could be renovated or upgraded with the $1.5 million, Mayor Rebecca Alty said.
“Council right now is saying we don’t want to approve (spending) just yet (for the CAB recommendations) because we want to see if there are permanent housing units,” said Alty.
The city has identified its 10-year Plan to End Homelessness as a pressing need.
“If there is no permanent supportive housing options, council will look again at the… recommendations that CAB has made,” Alty said, adding that decisions will be made sometime in the new year.
One of the potential locations identified for permanent supportive housing is the Aspen Apartments complex on 51 Street, which is a residence for federal staff. It could supply up to 36 residences.
Ideally, council wants the city put the money toward renovations on housing units and then turn them over to a non-governmental organization. The city is optimistic that it can afford to use the federal funds to hire a project manager and technical staff to complete the upgrades.
Deadline on spending extended
Council authorized Alty to make a written request to the Government of Canada for an extension to the March 31 deadline to spend the money. The mayor said this week that she was delighted to learn that the extension was granted.
“I sent a letter to the minister and they had been offering extensions to a bunch of communities because it was a common challenge for communities,” she said. “So we now have until June 30, 2021. It is definitely good news because it gives us another six months (from now) to work out housing solutions in the community.”
Rapid Housing Initiative
Council also agreed on Dec. 7 to direct city staff to put an application in place by the end of December towards a portion of the $1-billion Canada Mortgage and Housing’s Rapid Housing Initiative.
That funding aims to create up to 3,000 new permanent, affordable housing units across the country.
The city initially aimed to seek a specific dollar figure – $25 million – from that fund with the aim to support urgent housing needs for vulnerable residents. Preliminary talk around the council table in November was to identify and retrofit a downtown building to provide supportive housing.
Council asked city staff instead to tailor the application toward increasing the likelihood of getting funding approved.
“We want to look at other possibilities in town that might score higher (within the federal government’s criteria) because we might be more likely to receive funding,” Alty said. “We are not saying applications should try to get the most money, we said put in an application that will get the most points or the most likelihood of getting funds.”
Alty said there are a number of organizations in Yellowknife eligible to apply for Rapid Housing Initiative funding. If any of them is successful, it will make a big difference in local housing needs, according to the mayor.
“It is tough competition for the funding but we have heard that there are quite a few organizations in town who are seeking to apply,” Alty said.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is seeking some of that federal funding to go toward housing units in Dettah and N’dilo.
“We are hopeful that at least one housing project is selected in Yellowknife,” Alty said. “Each one (of the applicants is) targetting slightly different audiences, whether it is Elders or families or individuals. There is a housing need in all of those areas.”