‘This is a crisis’: Canadian Northwest Territories survey shows worsening housing conditions

A house for sale in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., photographed in March 2019. The 2019 NWT Community Survey says 42 per cent of all households have at least one major problem. (John Last/CBC)
Housing in every community throughout the Northwest Territories is getting worse.

The 2019 NWT Housing Survey says 42 per cent of all houses in the territory have at least one major problem, up from 20 per cent in the 2016 federal Census.

The CBC compared the results of the 2019 NWT Housing Survey with the 2016 Census results and found a dramatic change in the number of households with core housing needs — a term used by national housing authorities to determine the number of households that are too expensive for residents or are not suitable in other ways, like overcrowding or in need of major repairs.

In Canada, the number of households with core housing needs was 13 per cent in 2016, according the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Fort Simpson homes without basic amenities triples

In Fort Simpson, the number of households without basic amenities like running water, or homes in need of major repair, tripled over three years, from 40 in 2016 to 127 in 2019.

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly says there is no easy solution to the housing problem in his town. (CBC)

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said there’s no easy solution to making sure everyone has an affordable and adequate home in his village.

“You’ve got a lot of problems when you’re talking about housing,” he said. “The housing stock is getting older, there hasn’t been a lot of new construction here. I don’t even know that people can even afford the houses that are being put on the market.”

Whelly said he is actively looking for a locally-made solution with the Liidlii Kue First Nation to provide more housing instead of relying solely on government funding.

“Local people can do a lot … if you keep waiting for government to fix your problems, you could be waiting for a long time,” Whelly continued.

Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Norman Wells and Hay River also saw dramatic jumps in the number of households that did not have basic amenities in 2019.

Unaffordable housing spikes in Yellowknife

An affordable unit is one where the owner or tenant of a property spends roughly 30 per cent or less of their annual income on rent or a mortgage.

In Yellowknife, the number of households that reported paying too much for housing almost doubled from 1,059 in 2016 to 2,090 in 2019. That is one in three households in Yellowknife, compared to just one in five that reported an affordability problem in 2016.

Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, says skyrocketing housing prices in the capital is a crisis that needs to be addressed by the 19th legislature. (CBC)

Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said she was shocked and disappointed by the results of the 2019 N.W.T. housing survey.

“This is a crisis,” Green said. “It is a human right to have a house. It is a fundamental need — and we need to address it.”

Major towns in the territory, including Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik, also saw big jumps in the number of households struggling to pay for housing bills in 2019.

Premier Caroline Cochrane included investments in affordable housing and reducing core housing need on her list of upcoming priorities for the 19th Legislative Assembly.

The NWT Housing Corporation was also under Cochrane’s supervision as minister of housing in the last assembly.

The premier and the NWT Housing Corporation did not provide comment after several requests.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: MLAs in Canada’s Nunavut territory delay approving housing corp’s draft budget, CBC News

Finland: Report highlights Finland’s top 5 housing problems, Yle News

Norway: Population declining in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Abandoned properties a challenge for rural Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Budget cuts threaten transitional housing program in Alaska’s largest city, Alaska Public Media

Anna Desmarais, CBC News

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