In its first special report since opening, the office of the N.W.T ombud is calling on the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) to improve staffing supports and training and apologize for the mistreatment of a client.
The recommendations follow an investigation into a complaint from a family member of an NWTHC client whose calls for maintenance to her mobile unit went unresolved for years.
The complainant, referred to in the report only as Ms. Smith, raised concerns over her mother's treatment as an NWTHC client. Her mother, named as Ms. Mcdonald in the report, repeatedly brought forward issues for repair that N.W.T ombud Colette Langlois calls necessary for her safety.
While the report acknowledges the difficulties the housing corporation faced in securing a contractor and a breakdown in communication within the department, "NWTHC did not respond to Ms. Macdonald's concerns and did not communicate with her in a way that was appropriate to her needs and circumstances," Langlois said.
After her death, Mcdonald's estate was transferred to Smith. Only then did Smith become aware of $72,000 still owed to NWTHC in mortgage fees.
Since the housing corporation had never registered the mortgage with the land titles office, the heirs were not given notice of the mortgage when the property was transferred to them. While Smith sought answers on whether the unresolved damages would offset some of the money owed to NWTHC, the housing corporation filed a lawsuit for the outstanding debt.
Langlois concluded that while NWTHC was justified in wanting the mortgage paid, legal action would not have been necessary had the corporation registered the mortgage to give the new home owners proper notice.
The lawsuit amounted to $33,000 in legal fees for Smith and her brother, in addition to emotional distress, "when all we were doing was asking questions to try and get answers about what happened to our late mother," Smith said in the report.
Lawyers of the estate and NWTHC eventually reached a settlement.
'Small gestures' make a big difference
In response to the report, Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible for NWTHC, has accepted all of Langlois recommendations including apologizing to Smith, reviewing staffing levels and training and ensuring any unregistered mortgages are promptly registered to avoid similar such issues in the future.
Though Langlois said the ombud's office does not intend to publish all investigations in the future, in this case "the housing corporation made some really important commitments to follow through on the recommendations, and if nobody knew about them, and I would say this about any authority, maybe it would be less likely that they would get acted upon," she said.
Having only opened its doors in November 2019, Langlois said the report also provides an example of what the office of the ombud does. As an independent body the ombud's office works to find fair solutions when residents feel they have been treated unfairly by territorial organizations.
Langlois said the public often sees breakdowns in government services as stemming from a lack of funds, but that not everything is money-oriented.
"Sometimes it's about really small changes that people can make, small gestures can really make a big difference for clients," she said.
"In hindsight it's easy to see where the gaps were and there was a whole system behind why the client didn't get the help she needed. Going forward I hope they'll take some insight from that and see there are small things they can do day to day to really improve things for their clients," Langlois said of the housing corporation.