A constituent evicted over a $309 bill in the depths of winter is the price of how NWT public housing sets its rents, according to Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson.
That eviction comes as a result of inaccurate rent assessments, he said. Using T4 slips of the previous year to assess the income of rent controlled tenants have left many residents in Nunakput frustrated, he said, echoing recent concerns that the Mayor of Ulukhaktok raised with the previous housing minister, Alfred Moses, in August.
The problem, they say, is that this reflects a tenant’s economic situation last year, not right now. And in communities wracked with temporary and casual employment, it’s a significant burden on tenants paying rent they can’t afford.
The T4 system also doesn’t appear in the territory’s housing act, Jacobson noted. For him, it’s not the right assessment for small communities with flagging economic opportunities, especially in communities in his constituency. Unemployment in Ulukhaktok, for example, was at about 20 per cent in 2019, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics.
“It’s tougher on the families,” Jacobson told NNSL Media Tuesday. “You’re either paying you power bill, buying food, clothing for your children. The list goes on and on.”
Local community housing representatives, who conduct assessments, can enforce a system that is hard on elders in particular, according to Jacobson. He’d rather the system use pay stubs to give a more current representation of income.
In response to Jacobson’s concerns, Housing Minister Paula Chinna said it was the resident’s responsibility to keep local housing offices apprised of changes in income. She further clarified that the practice is set through the Housing Corporation’s policy, not legislation from the Assembly.
The use of T4 slips was instituted typically to accommodate people living with disabilities, and other tenants, Chinna told MLAs in Assembly Wednesday. Ideally, this would reduce time reporting to local housing organizations.
She added that other assessments are available to tenants, and that more communication was needed to more clearly communicate the Corporation’s policies.
Tenants in public housing pay between $70 and $1,625 per month for rent.
Speaking during a break in Assembly on Tuesday, Jacobson said he wasn’t satisfied by the minister’s answers, arguing she wasn’t briefed on the issue. Jacobson hopes a motion in the house will provide the pressure needed to change rental scales and assessments.
The current system calculates assessment calculates a tenant’s rates based on taxed returns from the previous year. That can be a challenge for residents who held casual or temporary work for a previous year, but now face changed employment status.
This isn’t the first time rental assessments have been brought forward in the past year.
Last August, Mayor Laverna Klengenberg of Ulukhaktok grilled Moses in an open letter over the same issue. In that letter, she noted how rental assessments presented a barrier to stable housing in her community.
“In a small Northern community where work is scarce and (jobs are) few and far between, or 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 last August. “How does the NWT Housing Corporation think that this will work?”
Speaking during a break at Assembly, Jacobson said the system is overcharging for units that are 30 years old or even older and face issues like mold.
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
“As soon as you fly out of Yellowknife there’s nothing going on economically. No jobs, nothing. All the jobs are taken in the small communities, and the rest of the people are relying on income support,” he said.