N.W.T. leaders fear wildfires, low water will further delay needed housing units

New seniors’ duplexes are slated for Fort Simpson, Tulita, Behchokǫ̀, Fort McPherson and Fort Resolution. Most of the units are being built at a facility in Hay River, N.W.T., and last summer’s evacuations slowed the process. (Submitted by Housing NWT)

Duplexes had been scheduled to arrive in 5 communities in March, now expected this summer

Seniors in five N.W.T. communities expecting to move into new homes earlier this spring will now have to wait until at least summer, because of wildfires that delayed the building of their new duplexes.

Housing N.W.T. had said that new duplexes for Fort Simpson, Behchokǫ̀, Fort Resolution, Fort McPherson and Tulı́t’a would be completed in March 2024, but most of those facilities were built in Hay River, N.W.T. and evacuations delayed manufacturing.

The duplexes are now built and ready to make their way into communities this summer, according to an email from Housing N.W.T. The units set for Fort Resolution, Fort McPherson, Fort Simpson and Behchokǫ̀ will travel by highway, and Tulı́t’a’s duplex is set to arrive by barge.

But some community leaders worry plans for the much-needed homes will be hampered by more wildfires this summer, and low water. The territory is grappling with historically low water levels, and wildfires pushing the limits of the territory’s infrastructure.

Meanwhile, residents across the territory struggle with overcrowding, poor housing conditions and finding a unit to occupy in the first place.

Kele Antoine, chief of Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., said his community could be affected by both the low water, and wildfire-related road closures.

“It’s gonna be quite a journey for these much-needed pieces of infrastructure,” Antoine said.

If the duplex going to Fort Simpson is among the four coming from Hay River, it will have to travel Highway 1, which has already closed and re-opened twice in May because of wildfires. Then, it will have to cross the ferry into the village.

The M.V. Lafferty in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., being launched into the Liard River. Some leaders in Fort Simpson are concerned about low water could affect the ferry this summer. (Jonathan Antoine)

Douglas Yallee, Tulı́t’a’s mayor, said he’s concerned about the barge making it into his community and that, like everywhere, housing is really needed there.

“There’s such a shortage of housing all over, so we’re the same way — we can always use more houses for young and old,” he said.

Once seniors move into the new facility, it will open a new unit for others on the housing waitlist.

Behchokǫ̀ has the longest waitlist of the five communities expecting the new duplexes. There are currently 130 applicants on the Behchokǫ̀ Kò Gha K’àodèe housing authority’s waitlist for Behchokǫ̀. Six of them are seniors.

In Fort Simpson, there are 22 applicants on the housing authority’s waitlist, two of whom are seniors.

In Fort Resolution, the housing authority has 20 applicants and two are seniors.

In Fort McPherson, there are 16 on the waitlist, and three are seniors.

And in Tulı́t’a, there are 11 applicants and none of them are seniors. Housing N.W.T. said that could be the result of recent fluctuation on the waitlists.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Construction of defence building in Yellowknife to begin, years later than expected, CBC News

Russia: Putin in Arkhangelsk: Arctic industry and infrastructure on agenda, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. gov’t paying to upgrade section of Alaska Highway in the Yukon, CBC News

Natalie Pressman, CBC News

Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at natalie.pressman@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @natpressman.

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