Housing was the focus of the Gordon Foundation’s third Northern Policy Hackathon, which saw more than 20 representatives from regions across the North come together in Inuvik to generate a number of recommendations for the federal government to help address the various issues surrounding Northern housing.
“It’s very much group work. It’s not a conference. It’s a hackathon,” said Mieke Coppes, the program officer for the Gordon Foundation.
“What that means is that there is very limited panels and presentations. The idea is that the participants are in these working groups where they have one theme that they focus on, and they spend time in those groups and they come back together as one big group.”
The main themes explored by participants during the two-and-a-half-day hackathon – from May 14 to 16 – included financing, home ownership, social issues and housing science.
“The recommendations – what they are is (participants) look at existing policy. If that issue is already filled by existing policy, why is that policy not doing a good job of (addressing) it? If there is no policy, what’s the recommendation to create the policy?” said Coppes.
Issues raised by the groups included the lack of funding for Northern housing initiatives, building designs, financial literacy, public housing and more.
“The part that really gets me is that all of our communities struggle, and the options that are coming out are going to work for each community in their own way as long as there’s flexibility that captures that diversity,” said Ashley Okrainec, a student representative for Aurora College.
Although she was pleased that discussions were taking place, Okrainec added that she hopes to see some action stem from having these conversations.
“The challenges are diverse and they’re not going to be the same for every community. But in the broader picture, it works for the whole North,” she said. “I think that this group is taking that into consideration, and we’re looking for positive change. We can talk, talk, talk. But if there’s no action, then it doesn’t matter.”
Following the hackathon, Coppes said the recommendations generated by the groups will be organized into a document by the foundation, which will then be sent to Ottawa for various politicians and interested parties to review.
“If we’re not getting together and we’re not talking about those issues, then we’re not going anywhere. We need to bring people together and we need to have engagement,” said Okrainec. “It needs to be community-led. You can’t bring people here to talk about issues here. You need to talk to the people, hear about their issues and then go from there.”
The only way change will occur, she continued, is through constant engagement and evaluation of the housing issues that are affecting Northern communities.
“I want to say bottom up, but we’re not. We’re at the top. We’re the frontline,” she said. “We’re where it’s happening. It’s where all the issues are. How do we engage at that level and bring it down to the government?”