MLA calls on Housing N.W.T. to stop garnishing Elders' pensions

Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong will later this week introduce a motion seeking to freeze the collection of housing debt accrued by Elders and residential school survivors.

Last year, Weyallon Armstrong said Housing N.W.T. should stop pursuing Elders over arrears they cannot pay back in their lifetimes by garnishing wages or pensions, where money is deducted and put toward the debt before the recipient is given the remainder.

"There are countless Elders living on fixed incomes and it is difficult for many of them to make ends meet,” Weyallon Armstrong said in October. "Many Elders are retirees and have contributed financially to the territory. In my eyes, the system has failed these individuals.

"Some Elders owe $100,000 or more. We know, in their lifetime, there is no way to pay back this debt."

At the time, housing minister Paulie Chinna promised to work with Weyallon but stopped short of a commitment to end the practice.

Housing N.W.T. says it is owed $19.3 million in outstanding mortgage payments and calls garnishment a "last resort" to collect.

This week, in a motion seconded by Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby, Weyallon Armstrong will ask Housing N.W.T. to place garnishments on hold while an alternative is developed.

"We call on the Government of the Northwest Territories to pause the garnishment of Elders' and Indian residential school survivors' pensions to pay for Housing N.W.T. arrears, immediately," said Weyallon Armstrong, giving notice of the motion.

The motion will further ask that Housing N.W.T. develop a strategy to "determine the feasibility and reasonableness of collecting arrears from Elders and residential school survivors."

Weyallon Armstrong put forward that as an act of reconciliation, Housing N.W.T. should forgive arrears in cases where Elders and survivors have made a concerted effort to repay debts but been unsuccessful.

The agency's current collections policy states that "arrears should be forgiven where collection is not possible," though the policy does not specify how the possibility of collecting arrears is evaluated, other than stating that forgiveness is one outcome if a collections unit "cannot collect arrears despite demonstrated effort."

The motion is set for debate on Wednesday this week.

Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio