Ulukhaktok Mayor Laverna Klengenberg grilled the NWT Housing Corporation in an August 19 open letter over unresponsiveness and poor unit conditions.
Addressed to Alfred Moses, the minister responsible for the housing corporation, and copying Nunakput MLA Herbert Nakimayak, the letter stated that a lack of response to residents’ concerns was working against them.
The corporation did not formally respond to multiple requests for comment, stating that Moses hadn’t seen the open letter posted, which was also posted to social media and attached to Inuvik Drum’s request for comment.
Nakimayak did not respond to requests for comment either.
A lack of communication with the corporation isn’t new, Klengenberg told Inuvik Drum. She said that whenever the corporation visits, it’s always the same issues brought forward, but the response is slow.
“They say this and then that happens. So it doesn’t get anywhere,” she said. For her, the goal was “to get some answers and have them do their job the way they should be doing it.”
Klengenberg said that means working with the community to fix the identified problems.
Her open letter was also released the same week as the housing corporation’s announcement of 45 new units for the RCMP, 17 of which are to built in Inuvik.
“Well, good for them, but where are the residents, the regular people that live in communities,” she said. “What are we getting? Are they going to fix up the aging units that people have to live with. Why aren’t we getting a fair shake at whatever we should be getting.”
Built in the “worst locations”
Klengenberg’s letter states the housing corporation ignored the advice of the hamlet, the Tenant Relations Board, and the contractor when placing three prebuilt duplexes at the “worst locations.”
If placed at the housing corporation’s chosen areas, there was concern that the buildings wouldn’t hold well under wind and snow build-up during the winter.
“They did not take any of our suggestions to heart and went ahead and put those units where they wanted,” Klengenberg wrote. “Two winters have (passed) and now they have ongoing issues due to the cold, and the winds.”
The tenants of the east-facing unit, who were teachers, faced the strongest winds. The hamlet chose to house a tenant in one of its own units, as a result, while another tenant chose to sleep at the school because it was too cold.
One of the hamlet’s units was a day shelter for residents experiencing homelessness, who could use the space to shower and do laundry. The hamlet had to close it to house the teachers who were in the unit exposed to the winds, Klengenberg told Inuvik Drum.
In January, CBC reported a similar instance where the local housing association also had to move a family into another unit after heating issues. In a statement to the broadcaster, the NWT Housing Corporation said it had to move tenants in rare instances, but all its units were assessed for health and safety before residents moved in.
“Next to nothing has been addressed nor improved”
Many of the buildings, which went up in the 1970s at the latest, have drafts and mould issues.
In the August 19 open letter, Klengenberg wrote that over the past few years, “next to nothing has been addressed nor improved” about the hamlet’s housing concerns.
Among these issues is rent assessment, which calculates a tenant’s rent based on tax returns from the year prior. This doesn’t take employment status into account.
According to Klengenberg’s letter, residents say the system is “working against them” because casual or temporary work from the year before may not reflect their present situation.
“In a small Northern community where work is scarce and few and far between, many are not full- or part-time permanent, and yet they are charged a monthly amount as if they have a full-time permanent job,” she wrote. “How does the NWT Housing Corporation think that this will work?”
The letter also cites a case where an applicant lost their housing spot in Yellowknife while waiting for the current tenant to leave. The housing corporation rescinded the spot, saying her combined income with her spouse and two adult children didn’t qualify for housing.
In the letter, Klengenberg notes the applicant’s last job was a six-month contract, and her spouse was a casual worker. She asks why an application can be scrapped in later months and income is considered, but not the type of employment. The local housing manager then told her the family couldn’t reapply.
“This is unacceptable practice and works against people,” she wrote.
A failure to communicate
Klengenberg concludes the letter, stating that after she was voted onto the Tenant Relations Board last year, she believes the body is “‘for show’ as it holds no power whatsoever.” It largely approves motions by administration and handed down from the head office.
Regional corporation leadership representatives also didn’t attend the board’s annual general meeting, she said.
When dealing with these concerns with the housing corporation, “it’s always a band-aid fix,” she said.