A number of people weighing in on Canada’s National Housing Strategy are giving the federal government a pat on the back for acknowledging the North’s unique housing needs.

Tom Williams, president and CEO of the NWT Housing Corporation, said he i’s optimistic the federal government’’s new housing strategy will meet Northerner’s’ needs. Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo
Nov. 23, 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released the long-awaited document Wednesday in Toronto with the help of federal minister Jean-Yves Duclos in Vancouver.

The 10-year, $40-billion strategy aims to increase Canadians’ access to affordable housing by cutting homelessness in half over the next decade and creating thousands of new housing units, among other ambitious goals.

“It’s great to see the federal government stepping up to the plate and providing long-term funding and taking a huge interest in trying to rectify the housing needs across the country – particularly here in the North,” said Tom Williams, president and CEO of the NWT Housing Corporation. “We’re very optimistic that this new National Housing Strategy will meet the needs of Northerners.”

While the 40-page document is more a blueprint than a detailed outline of how money will trickle down to individual communities, it specifically recognizes higher housing needs and costs exist in the North.

There’s also acknowledgment of how Indigenous residents and women are affected by housing issues.

The feds thus committed to spending 25 per cent of investments from the strategy on women, girls and their families.

“Women make seem to make up a disproportionate share of people who are low-income or are trying to house themselves and their children,” said Lyda Fuller, executive director of the YWCA NWT.

She said she was “super excited” to see the strategy included commitments the YWCA has been asking for for years, as well as a promise to build and renew shelter spaces for women fleeing violence.

Two of the four women’s shelters outside Yellowknife are looking for new buildings, Fuller said.

The document also states the feds will allocate $300 million for Northern housing over the next 10 years – a figure announced earlier this year when the federal government released its 2017 budget.

The NWT received $36 million from that pot.

NWT Housing Minister Caroline Cochrane later expressed confusion over the relatively low figure, compared to the $240 million handed to Nunavut, which has similar needs.

After a meeting with her federal counterpart in June, she told Yellowknifer the government had promised more funding would be coming down the pipe and that the NWT would be considered for it.

Williams explained there are “other pots of funding” the NWT could tap into through the National Housing Strategy.

“But the devil’s in the details,” he said. “We’re still waiting for how the allocation’s going to work.”

NWT MP Michael McLeod agreed.

“Some of the initiatives have already been announced,” said McLeod, referring to the $300 million. “There’s a number of other ones that are still being discussed … and of course we’re all patiently waiting to see what they’ll result in, in terms of dollar amounts when the budget is announced in March.”

But he was pleased the strategy included women and families, and acknowledged the unique needs in the North.

“It’s a good start. We still have a lot of work to do,” said McLeod, citing a need for more detail around community housing, Indigenous peoples and seniors.

The only thing missing now is a 10-year housing strategy from the GNWT, according to one expert.

Nick Falvo, director of research and data at the Calgary Homeless Foundation, who also worked on Yellowknife’s 10-year homelessness strategy, said the national document released this week has potential to “compliment” the city’s commitments.

“If the territorial government doesn’t match, it could be that the dollars don’t get spent,” said Falvo. “Now that depends. Those details haven’t been discussed.”

But Williams says the GNWT is making strides to develop its own strategy and is working with the city on housing issues.

“One of the commitments under the mandate is to review all our homelessness programs and our strategies,” said Williams. “So there will be a strategy coming.”

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