Parties, candidates explain how they'll try to fix N.W.T. housing

·5 min read

Most Northwest Territories residents need only look down the street to be reminded of one of the territory's biggest crises: the lack of suitable, safe housing.

Multiple families crowd into some homes in small N.W.T. communities where there simply aren't enough buildings. Elsewhere, people live in dilapidated houses long overdue for repair or pay some of the priciest rental costs in Canada.

There is universal agreement among federal election contenders that fixing N.W.T. housing is an urgent priority. But how?

We consulted parties' national platforms and news releases and heard directly from candidates to summarize what each of the five options on the territory's ballot is promising.

In a news release on Tuesday, Michael McLeod – seeking a third term as the N.W.T.'s MP – said a re-elected Liberal government would build on investments it has made in northern housing with a new, three-part national housing plan.

McLeod said the plan will help make home ownership more accessible by helping renters to become owners, reducing the monthly cost of mortgages, and increasing incentives to help young people buy homes, saving first-time homeowners up to $30,000.

The national plan promises to build more homes by doubling a national fund for coinvestment, a practice where the federal government puts up money to help projects that already have some other source of financial backing, such as from the N.W.T. Housing Corporation.

The Liberals also propose allocating at least $300 million to Indigenous housing, for which McLeod says he has been "the leading voice on Parliament Hill."

The party adds it will establish a "home buyers’ bill of rights." The Liberals say that document encompasses “banning blind bidding, establishing a legal right to a home inspection, and banning new foreign ownership for two years to make the process of buying a home fairer, more open, and transparent.”

According to N.W.T. Conservative candidate Lea Mollison’s campaign Facebook page, her party would increase housing infrastructure by utilizing what she terms a “northern housing allowance.”

Posts to Facebook are one of few clues about Mollison's personal views on housing. The candidate, based in Thunder Bay, says her team has instructed her to decline all interviews before polling day.

The Conservatives say they will address Indigenous housing by supporting a “for Indigenous, by Indigenous” strategy that involves working with “Indigenous communities and empowering Indigenous peoples with the autonomy to meet their own housing goals.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, in a letter written to N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane this week, said the party would implement a dedicated Northern Housing Strategy that provides the territories with “their fair share of federal housing funding,” though that didn't include precise dollar values.

O'Toole said housing funding would be predictable and stable, and the party would work with Indigenous groups and resource companies in the North to ensure housing gets built.

In its federal platform, the party plans to build one million homes nationally in the next three years.

NDP candidate Kelvin Kotchilea said at a news conference on Tuesday he and the NDP will work with Indigenous communities to implement a fully funded, Indigenous-led housing strategy within the party's first 100 days in office if elected.

Kotchilea said getting locals involved in the process and training people from communities is an important part of the plan as a “one-size-fits-all approach” doesn’t work across the territory’s 33 communities.

Consultation across the territory will be a major factor, Kotchilea said, noting some communities' houses primarily require repairs while others need new or better-suited units.

“With housing, it ties back to mental health, because you do need to be in a more suitable environment that gives you that healthy lifestyle,” he said.

“I think the struggle of affordability around housing, and just not having housing units in the community, is hurting a lot of people, a lot of families, and a lot of young people."

In its federal platform, the NDP commits to “create at least 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing in the next 10 years, with half of that done within the next five years.”

In its federal platform, the Greens have committed to “develop inclusive and culturally appropriate Urban Indigenous Housing Strategies” that will be guided by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis groups.

The national team says it would declare housing affordability and homelessness a national emergency, redefine affordable housing to ensure that term varies regionally, and appoint a federal housing advocate.

The Greens will create a national moratorium on evictions, national standards for rent and vacancy controls, and “strengthen regulation to limit foreign investment and end predatory practices in residential real estate.”

The party promises to build 50,000 supportive housing units over 10 years, and build and acquire a minimum of 300,000 units of "deeply affordable non-market, co-op, and non-profit housing over a decade."

The Green Party candidate in the N.W.T. is Roland Laufer.

Longtime N.W.T. politician Jane Groenewegen, running as an independent, said by email any response to the housing crisis must be broken down into the specific types of housing the N.W.T. needs.

She gave the examples of housing for seniors, social housing for singles and families, housing for young working people, housing for vulnerable people, and market housing for a variety of tenants.

Groenewegen said governments need to drive more participation in housing funding programs like the federal coinvestment fund.

She said more use of such funds would increase the number of affordable new or refurbished units available.

“I think government needs to look for ways to encourage participation and uptake in these monies already allocated, so the investments can see more housing available in communities of different sizes and levels of need,” she wrote.

“This, along with continued funding commitments for social housing, needs to be made a priority at all levels of government.”

Election day is Monday, September 20, with polls open across the Northwest Territories from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio

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