Yellowknife transitional housing on ice after N.W.T. housing corporation refuses to back project

A transitional housing project for vulnerable Yellowknife residents is now unlikely to go ahead, after the N.W.T. Housing Corporation decided not to back it.

Since last April, the Yellowknife Women's Society has been working to take over Yellowknife's Arnica Inn and convert it into 42 bachelor apartments to use as transitional housing.

To fund the takeover, the society applied for $4 million in funding from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), conditional on $650,000 in additional funding from the territory's housing corporation.

Their application was rejected by CMHC last Friday. On Tuesday, the society learned from CMHC it was because the territory had refused to fund the project.

"I think it's really disappointing," said Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society. "It's one of the only places we could see a solution like that working."

The units would have been rented to men and women on the society's "housing first" waitlist — those escaping domestic abuse, who are chronically homeless, or who live with mental health issues.

This opportunity is going to be lost. - Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society

The funding would have covered the purchase price of the building — $3 million — and the cost of renovations to meet accessibility requirements set by the CMHC.

"It is a small cost considering the impact that it would have," said Denning, "especially because our Yellowknife population of homeless individuals comes from across the North."

Denning said the cost per unit would have been about $50-70,000 — much less than the cost of a new building.

Support services — like an all-hours attendant — would have been funded by the society, which would collect the subsidized rents paid by residents.

"We could move in and start operating tomorrow, if we could find the funding," she said.

Denning said, as of Friday, she still had not heard from the housing corporation about why they refused to fund the project. The N.W.T. Housing Corporation did not immediately respond to CBC's requests for comment.

Kate Kyle/CBC

'Shocked and dismayed'

In a post on Facebook, Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said the decision left her "shocked and dismayed."

"I can't wrap my head around it," she wrote.

In the post, Alty said as of 2018, 338 people were homeless in the city.

"It's a huge need, and it's not going down," Alty told CBC.

"Within a matter of months, we would have been able to have 42 residents housed."

The city approved the project last spring, and Alty provided a letter of support for the project.

Denning said the owners of the Arnica Inn have been "extremely patient" with the society as it waits to secure funding.

"Unless a million dollars falls from the sky or the decision is completely reversed," she said, "this opportunity is going to be lost."