Housing For Communities Must Be a 2023 Mandate

Substandard housing contributes to homelessness, addictions and prevents healthy families dealing with residential school trauma


Money tells the story of housing in the NWT. Out of the $2.1 billion the GNWT spent in 2022, $77 million was budgeted for NWT Housing. That’s 3.6 percent of all the money the GNWT spends. ( Twenty-three years ago, in the year 2000, the GNWT spent 5.7 percent.) Click on the pie chart to see the planned spend on housing.

It’s been that way for decades, a tiny slice of the financial pie designated for dealing with one of the largest needs in the NWT. How can people get jobs to buy a home when we are investing so little in the communities?

1. The Problem

How did we get here?

We have allowed homes built by the government for its people to fall into disrepair, decade after decade. We are not building more housing to meet the need. We are simply underfunding and hurting not only families but the economy of the NWT. 

We should be hiring more carpenters and less policy advisors. Click on the pie chart to see the planned spend on housing on the 2022-23 capital budget. 

Let's start here
HAP House - Rainbow Valley [George Goulet constructing a house in Ndilo. Photo taken by Fran Hurcomb]

NWT Housing Policy Hasn't Changed From 1975

In the 70s and 80s, some people took advantage of the Housing Assistance Program and built a house with the materials provided by the Housing Corporation.  When asked, a former Chief, who was also involved in housing, said it was good for people with carpentry skills which, sadly, most of us lack, so the uptake was limited.

Our approach to housing in NWT communities is based on the Canadian model. Settlers occupy land suitable for agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing etc., usually after a road, railway or docks have been built by the central government. 

There are few roads in the NWT, fewer farms, no docks on the ocean, no railroads north of Enterprise, few jobs in the communities We need a new model. Community housing be considered infrastructure, like roads, bridges and runways, all of which contribute to the health of the economy, and in the case of housing, to the health of families.


Why Do We Spend So Little On A Top Priority?

Our present government says its top priority is to Increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need. Yet when you look at the GNWT’ spending pie, housing is not there.

NWT Housing is an ‘agency’ which means it has its own budget and collects money from other sources, like Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Even with money from CMHC, the budget  for housing those in need came in at less that $120 million. 

Click on pie chart for the full financial picture
The problem

$60 Million For Housing Left Unspent

In February 2019, Minister Alfred Moses announced $60 million in federal funding had been set aside for housing in the NWT. Minister Moses was very proud and happy.

Two years later the funding was untouched. Why? You can read all about it in a Cabin Radio story but it’s not clear why what happened happened. Not the reporter’s fault because the people interviewed who should know profess not to know and the people who should have known, mainly Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit governments, were not informed.

In this case, the price of fragmented leadership could have been $60 million, 68 percent of the money the GNWT spends on housing.

The problem

4% Of $2.2 Billion Falls Far Short Of Meeting Housing Need In NWT Communities

We have 2,800 subsidized Public Housing units and 390 Affordable and Market rental housing units and programs across the NWT.

Many are over thirty years old and will have to be replaced in the next twenty years. We have built too few houses over the last twenty years, with with most of the money going to maintenance and replacement.

 The total GNWT spend of $88 million is four per cent of the GNWT’s annual budget. Clearly the heartfelt concern the political leadership has for the housing crisis in the communities is not reflected in spending.

Click on the picture to read the story of what’s happening to families around the NWT. This person got help but only because of media coverage.

The problem

Committee Of MLAs reveals the depth of our housing crisis

Standing Committees in the Legislative Assembly have studied housing problems in the communities. Now we have to develop solutions for the civil service to implement. NWT families are suffering in substandard public housing (those lucky enough to get it)?

Unfortunately, the Report on Housing: Phase One: Needs for homeowners and landlords missed the mark. The vast majority of homeowners and landlords live and operate in Yellowknife with the rest living and operating in the regional centres. Landlords are not suffering.

The committee of MLAs confirmed the sad history: While Members appreciate there have been many attempts made over the years by the territorial government to address housing issues, Members were discouraged hearing from the number of stakeholders who are still dealing with the same issues repeatedly identified over the last six decades.

Presumably, Phase Two will deal with the people who need and can’t afford the housing. 

2. Solutions

How to we build for the future?

We build for the future by putting the construction companies we have to work. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, furnace repair etc. are as vital to the quality of our lives and our economy as doctors and nurses. We should recruit and train tradespeople the same way we do health professionals. 

Ask any homeowner how scarce such trades are. 

Building trades in the Northwest Territories

Housing Construction Can Build Community Capacity Through Training Opportunities

In the NWT today, the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit workforce is supplanted by trained Southerners. Between 2007 and 2017, non-resident workers were about one-third of the NWT workforce, siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the south.

Housing is an infrastructure project that would utilize all the construction expertise that exists in virtually every region of the NWT and certain individuals in many communities. These entrepreneurs have survived great odds through lack of staff and dealing with a remote government structure in Yellowknife.

They too are an untapped resource who, if supported properly, could form the basis of new community economies.