By Nick Falvo. Taken from How Ottawa Spends, 2011-2012: Trimming Fat or Slicing Pork. 2011. Edited by G. Bruce Doern and Christopher Stoney.
Released in the 2011-2012 edition of How Ottawa Spends, "Who Pays, When, and How? Government-Assisted Housing in the Northwest Territories and the Role of the Federal Government" provides an overview of the housing situation in the North West Territories (NWT) and the role of the federal government in administering housing in the region, with special consideration given to the territorys low-income population.
The data from 10 key informant interviews was used to inform the findings and conclusions in the chapter. Each of the interviewees had currently or previously worked for the NWT Housing Corporation, or had significant involvement in the NWTs housing sector.
Significant historical events in the NWT have played a role in shaping the territorys housing sector. One major event was the forced resettlement of the Aboriginal population in the NWT, which created a new dependency on the state for shelter as their way of life was permanently altered and important social and community ties were severed. The NWT Housing Corporation serves all NWT residents through the same programming with no distinction between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal clientele. In addition, unlike many other Canadian jurisdictions, the NWT does not have any federally administered on-reserve housing. The two reserves in the NWT (Salt Plains and Hay River Dene) are under the jurisdiction of the NWT territorial government, including the responsibility for housing.
Current Housing System
Housing in the NWT is administered by Local Housing Organizations (LHOs) that report to the Housing Corporation. Housing is delivered through a number of programs including public housing, ownerships programs and rent-to-own programs. Eligibility for these programs follows Canada Mortgage Housing Corporations Core housing need income guidelines, where a household pays no greater than 30 percent of their income on shelter.
Housing Challenges in the NWT
The uniqueness of the NWT geographical location adds challenges to the housing system. High construction costs due to limited labor supply and high freight costs to transport materials drive up the costs of building new supply. Utility costs in the NWT are almost double the Canadian average. The NWT territorial government spends on average $1,672 per capita on housing versus the national average of $61.
The Aboriginal population in the NWT report higher levels of unemployment (almost four times greater) and are more likely to live in overcrowded and substandard shelter conditions. Aboriginal people also live disproportionately in small communities that often have higher proportions of social housing and fewer employment opportunities.
Additional challenges in the housing sector include high rates of public housing rent and mortgage arrears and expiring federal funding agreements. It is predicted that as funding declines with expiry of agreements, by 2038 income from tenants will sustain only half of the public housing stock. Strategies to sell off the older existing stock are being used to generate income to develop new more energy efficient units.
Despite high construction and utility costs, the one-time capital costs for investing in housing are not that much greater than other Canadian provinces (ranging from $150,000 to $300,000 per unit). Gross Domestic Product in the NWT is also amongst the highest per capita.
Strategies to address the high unemployment rates in more remote areas, especially amongst the Aboriginal population, will need to be developed to improve affordability. The existing stock will need to be expanded to accommodate the growing waitlists, which are quite high compared to the total population, and investments will need to be made to maintain the existing stock to prevent further loss of units. It is unknown how the Federal Government will respond, but it is likely that if international presence and attention on the resource front mounts, they will not let the housing conditions deteriorate further.
This chapter would be of interest to public servants and individuals concerned about the future of housing in the Northwest Territories.
Reviewed by Lindsey Graham