Two national housing groups are calling on the Northwest Territories to declare a state of emergency for housing Indigenous people, particularly women and girls.
The National Indigenous Housing Network and the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network say Housing NWT, the region’s housing agency, is failing northern Indigenous peoples.
Housing advocate Lisa Thurber said on behalf of the groups, “We are literally in a state of emergency.”
She said she could not take clients to hotels in Yellowknife because there were no rooms available.
“These tenants are literally in tears,” she said. “The biggest complaint is: ‘I’m cold.’ We live in the Northwest Territories for Pete’s sake and most winters are cold. So what are we doing about that?”
Thurber, who recently formed a territorial tenants’ union, said housing issues in the NWT are well-documented.
Richard Adjerikon, a member of the territory’s Legislative Assembly, presented photos depicting an insect infestation in a public housing unit at the Lanky Court apartment building in Yellowknife in October.
Last month, several other legislature members also raised concerns with public housing, citing issues such as mold, pest-infestation, leaking sewage, broken windows, inadequate heating, high rental costs and arrears.
“The root of the problem is this government’s inability or unwillingness to provide adequate housing for all of our residents,” Kevin O’Reilly told the assembly. “Housing is not a priority for this government when we continue to spend more on housing for mega projects on housing and commuting to Ottawa on roads than on housing.”
Legislature member Caitlin Cleveland later raised concerns that the Housing NWT does not collect data on the gender or ethnicity of people living in public housing or on people experiencing homelessness across the region.
Beyond public housing, the 2021 Census found that more than 13 percent of NWT households were in primary housing need, meaning their housing did not meet at least one of the adequacy, affordability or suitability standards. Yellowknife’s latest point-in-time homelessness count said 312 people experienced homelessness in the city in 2021.
Housing NWT, in partnership with local housing and community organisations, is responsible for over 2,400 public housing units across the region. It also provides a range of public and market housing programs and services, including rent subsidies, a homeless assistance fund, and a home buying program.
The two housing networks are seeking to release control of housing units to the Housing NWT and have a group of Indigenous advisors from across the region oversee its decisions.
They are also calling for the dissolution of the Housing Corporation, saying that indigenous governments and organizations are best positioned to address the region’s housing crisis.
“We have a plan. We’re not just calling a state of emergency to ‘do something’,” Thurber said, adding the plan includes buying 70 off-grid homes that will serve those most in need. stands by.
“We’re hoping to see more housing,” she said. “I want to see a convoy of trucks bringing this residence.”
Several indigenous groups in the area are already working to take control of the habitat.
The Dene Nation passed a motion to do so in 2019, saying the Crown had not met its obligations to provide quality housing for its citizens. In May 2022, the federal government said it would provide $600,000 to the Dene Nation to build a housing and infrastructure secretariat and $135,000 to purchase a modular unit in K’aÌ tl’odeeche First Nation.
Also in 2019, the Yellowonews Dene First Nation announced plans to create a community driven housing strategy with the aim of controlling housing in Datah and N’Dilo.
In Fort Good Hope, the K’asho Got’ine Housing Society took over control of housing maintenance and repairs from the NWT Housing Corporation in 2020.
Pauli Chinna, the minister responsible for the region’s housing corporation, said in a statement that a state of emergency is usually declared during a natural disaster, civil unrest, armed conflict or a medical epidemic, so the government can enforce it through policies. , Normally this will not be allowed. to do this.
Chinna said the Housing NWT is addressing the region’s housing crisis by making policy and program changes and working with community and indigenous governments.
“Meeting the region’s housing needs is larger than any one government or organization, and (the Northwest Territories government) will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, the Government of Canada, community governments and other stakeholders. Area’s housing target.
Chinna said Housing NWT is in the process of putting forward a multi-year capital plan, which involves delivering 510 housing units. The agency’s latest annual report also says it has been able to conduct the largest expansion of public housing units in two decades, largely thanks to a partnership between regional and federal governments.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 9, 2023.
This story was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.