With a new year comes a clear view from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) of its plan to assume total control over its housing system.

The First Nation aims to manage all aspects of housing in its communities of Ndilo and Dettah, from home design to governance and construction, as Jason Snaggs, Chief Executive of YKDFN told Yellowknifer.

“The NWT Housing Corporation (NWTHC) controls the planning and design. There’s no emphasis on looking at the community or culture, what is considered culturally appropriate. There’s no input into where the houses will be built. One thing we’re looking to do is ensure that all members of the community are involved and take leadership over housing. Community involvement is key. We don’t just want to have people paying rent,” said  Snaggs.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is formulating a strategy to take control of its own housing system. NNSL file  photo

Once fully implemented, the strategy would remove the NWTHC from its authority over housing in YKDFN, a move that Snaggs said the community will welcome.

“It’s been a long desire of the community to part ways with the corporation. They see the corporation as a remnant of colonialism, creating dependency rather than independence,” he said.

A major aim of the First Nation’s housing strategy is to ensure home ownership. There were some steps towards that goal with the Housing Assistance Program (HAP) that started in the 1970’s and ran until 1992.

“In Dettah today, those people who are able to construct their own homes, they did that through saving their money and building those homes over time,” he said. “But no one today can get a mortgage there because it’s on federal land. And they can’t get a loan to do repairs on those houses.

“It results in abandoned houses in the community. In some cases they deteriorate to the point where they have to be torn down.”

While Snaggs admits the challenge of mortgages and loans is a tough issue to solve, he said the federal government has pledged to help YKDFN achieve home ownership for its members.

“We’re examining all of those opportunities that would allow us to get mortgages. It’s not going to be done over night. This hasn’t been done in the North before,” he said.

“Our goal is to push the envelope with the federal government and with the NWT Housing Corp. So far we’ve received some support from the NWTHC even though they’re a bit skeptical,” said Snaggs, adding that the corporation has agreed to provide YKDFN with $110,000 towards its housing strategy.

The YKDFN will work with the Together Design Lab from Toronto’s Ryerson University to help it develop its unique housing plan. That lab has worked with communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario to help it develop a community-led housing strategy.

“Their job is to facilitate ideas with the communities. They also bring the science associated with it. Their goal is to combine the uniqueness of the YKDFN and move away from the one-size fits all situation,” said Snaggs.

The housing strategy has seven phases, and the community is currently in the first phase of assessing the housing needs and community consultation.

Phase two will consist of reporting on the needs and locating YKDFN on the housing spectrum (from market housing to non-market rental housing to emergency shelters).

Phase three is the design of new housing; phase four is formulating a governance structure; phase five will be finalizing the strategy and presenting it to the federal and territorial governments; phase six is receiving the funding; and the final phase will be construction of new housing.

About $800,000 has been budgeted for developing the strategy.

Snaggs said the budget for construction won’t be known until the strategy is completed.

The next step in the plan will be a community consultation workshop on Feb. 17 to 24 with officials from the Ryerson program.

The strategy development is expected to be done by the end of the year or the first quarter of 2021, said Snaggs.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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