Vacancies in Public Housing and Homeownership Units

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

October 15, 2010 - The Minister of the NWT Housing Corporation, Robert C. McLeod, updated the Members of the Legislative Assembly and the general public on recent housing construction and related vacancies in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker. I rise today to update Members and the general public on recent housing construction and related vacancies in the NWT.

Over the summer, I, along with fellow members of Cabinet and this Assembly had an opportunity to tour many communities in our territory. One of the more common questions we were asked pertained to vacant housing units. It is understandable that concerns have been raised about vacancies in our housing portfolio, especially given the level of core housing need in many of these communities. Therefore, I would like to provide some context for why there are vacant units and outline our approach to put families into these much needed units.

The Federal share of the $117 million in Federal and Territorial funding for Northern Housing under Canada’s Economic Action Plan was designed to put housing on the ground within a short time frame as an economic stimulus measure. Failure to build housing quickly would have put the NWT at risk of having funds reprofiled to other jurisdictions if the funds were not utilized on a timely basis. As a result, the NWTHC seized the opportunity to conduct an expanded construction and repair program, to ensure that this funding could create a long term and lasting impact and improve housing supply and condition in our communities. It meant recognizing housing need in communities, building homeownership units before allocating through the normal program intake process, and repairing units to utilize this funding at a rate far beyond historical levels. While this approach allowed us to provide good quality housing to many families, it also meant that a number of units remained unoccupied pending the fall program intake.

The NWTHC has over 4,000 public housing, homeownership, and market housing units in its portfolio. At any given time, particularly during construction season, many of these units are unoccupied due to modernization and improvement projects to improve the quality of housing for NWT residents, resulting in many units not being available for occupancy. Given the significant federal investment, this situation was more pronounced during the summer of 2010. During this period, we had the opportunity to undertake major renovations and retrofits to approximately 173 units. In addition, a further 44 units are beyond economic repair and targeted for replacement. Vacant public housing units is not a static number, and changes often, as allocations are made on a monthly or more frequent basis by our community partners, the local housing organizations.

Construction of public housing units is targeted at replacement as the public housing stock has remained static at 2400 units since the decline of federal funding for operations and maintenance was begun in the 1990’s. While Federal funding for the construction of new homeownership units has been appreciated, it is clear that the housing needs of the NWT cannot be fully realized through the construction of new homeownership units. This is particularly the case in rural and remote communities. The Federal investment has proved to be a challenge as homeownership units may not be meeting all of the housing needs of NWT communities. While we recognize this challenge, we also recognize the importance of seeing these units utilized as quickly as possible in order to meet community housing needs.

Mr. Speaker, our approach to deal with the vacancies in our communities begins with our Housing Choices program intake. Over the past 6 weeks, NWTHC programs staff have been in all our communities accepting applications for HELP, PATH and CARE as well as providing one on one counselling to applicants. As you may be aware, program intake ends today. Early indications are that the interest and demand for these programs remains strong in many communities, and I am confident that we will fill many vacant housing units in our communities through this process.

Should our program intake not fill all vacancies, the NWTHC has developed other options to deal with vacancies. First, the NWTHC will pursue a targeted program intake in those communities. This will ensure that any and all eligible residents are given an opportunity to benefit from the available housing.

Secondly, should there continue to be vacancies following the second intake, the NWTHC will undertake discussions with those communities to determine their priorities and suggestions for the possible use of these units to address their specific housing needs.

The NWTHC will also discuss with the GNWT and communities the potential of converting these homes to public housing. As I stated earlier, the best housing option for many residents in need in the NWT is public housing. With the decline of O&M funding from CMHC, the NWTHC continues to be limited in its ability to add new public housing to its portfolio.

We recognize that many communities have less public housing than they need, and in some specific communities, there is no public housing program. Therefore, the GNWT may have to consider the addition of public housing units to our portfolio as an option not just to fill vacant units, but as part of our overall approach to providing affordable housing now and into the future. I have also directed the NWTHC to identify potential gaps and mechanisms in current programs in order to better meet the housing needs of NWT residents.

Mr. Speaker, in closing I believe Members would agree that our accelerated construction has resulted in housing on the ground in communities where there is a continuing housing need. The NWTHC has been able to build nearly 700 units over the past 5 years, and repair over a thousand private and public dwellings – all within our fiscal capacity.

The NWT and other jurisdictions have benefitted greatly from Federal investments over the last several years. The GNWT has also recognized the importance of housing and has invested significant funds to ensure we can achieve the maximum benefit from Federal investments. With the sunset of Federal funding for construction just a few months away, these investments are quickly drawing to a close. The past five years of construction has left an important legacy in our communities – adequate, suitable and affordable housing that can meet the housing needs of our residents for years to come.

Our challenge now is to not only benefit from these investments but build upon them as we move forward in an effort to promote further investment in housing that will continue to meet the needs of our residents.

Thank you Mr. Speaker.

For more information, contact:

Press Secretary
Office of the Premier/Cabinet
Government of the Northwest Territories
Phone: (867) 669-2302