EDITORIAL: Housing remains a top challenge

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Heading into two elections this fall, there is much anxiety over where the territory is heading.

The Government of the Northwest Territories and the federal government signed a National Housing Strategy document
last fall that commits both to long-term funding for housing needs in the territory over the next decade. Housing remains a
perennial problem in the Northwest Territories. There’s not enough of it and costs are extremely high. This is an issue voters
should press candidates on in both the upcoming territorial and federal elections. NNSL file photo

Residents are right to be concerned about the health of the main economic drivers in the NWT — government and mining — and to the extent that they will be able to provide economic sustenance over the next decade.

A direct offshoot of the health of the NWT economy overall is its housing picture and it should be no secret that housing remains a problem in the NWT, when it comes to affordability, suitability for families and overall adequacy, or condition of housing units.

According to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, while NWT struggles in all of these categories, it is adequacy that is the biggest problem.

“Adequacy continues to be the most prevalent housing problem in the NWT with 18.1 percent of NWT households requiring major repairs compared to the Canadian rate of 6.5 per cent,” the most recent housing data from the 2016 census states.

“In 2016, the rate of NWT households with adequacy problems was up slightly from both 2011 (17.2 per cent) and 2006 (17.6 per cent).”

There is also clearly a demand to address affordability, which ties directly to the need for greater home ownership in the North. While the NWT Bureau of Statistics states that it is easier to purchase a home in the North than in other southern markets such as Toronto or Vancouver, it is cold comfort to many who want to stay here as it remains remains very expensive to run a household with basic amenities. Often this means that two adults must be working full-time with highly paid jobs in order to cover costs. For this to happen, jobs must be plentiful, predictable and provide steady pay that can meet the high cost of living in the North.

Alternatives North, which bills itself as NWT’s “unofficial opposition,” stated earlier this year that to cover costs for two full-time working parents with two children, a living wage must be $23.95 in Yellowknife, $24.75 in Hay River and $23.78 in Inuvik working 37.5 hours per week.

Updated information on housing is expected to be released by the bureau of statistics in November based on 2019 census information, which is good timing given that there will be new governments elected in both Ottawa and the territory.

With diamond mines expected to be in the decline over the next five to 10 years and nothing as of yet to substantially replace them, there is only government for the most part that can provide these types of wages and hours for families.

Much of this points to the obvious difficulty of living in the North where there are remote communities not connected by all-season roads, where wealth levels and populations are low, and where building supplies are – as a result- in limited supply or extremely expensive to obtain.

While there are many competing interests to raise with federal and territorial candidates this fall, housing is surely among the top tier. The federal and territorial governments have together shown as strong a commitment to NWT housing as it ever has in recent memory. The Northern Housing Strategy, introduced last fall, committed the federal government as a long-time funding partner with the GNWT to address the most dire housing needs with $139.4 million over the next decade.

The NWT Housing Corporation held a Northern Housing Summit in Inuvik last spring where it was stated even more dollars are needed and for this we agree.
As much as there is a need for large infrastructure projects and the federal government to be fully on board for the North, there is equally a need for investment in housing and bring standards up for Northerners to an average enjoyed by other Canadians.

This will be a much easier challenge to face if the NWT economy is healthy, and why every effort must be made to grow jobs and and investment in the North.

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