Federal agency turns down Arnica Inn request from women’s society

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Proponents of a proposal to convert the Arnica Inn into transitional housing for women are disappointed it has been denied millions in federal funding.

The Yellowknife Women’s Society’s $4 million plan, which has been in the works since April 2019, would have added 42 transitional housing units to support the estimated 338 Yellowknife residents experiencing homelessness.

Arnica Inn is valued at $3 million.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

The plan fell through when the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) pulled support, citing concerns from the territorial government, Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty posted on Facebook Friday.

“I’m shocked and dismayed by the news,” she said. 

A GNWT spokesperson said Friday afternoon that a housing department official could not be made available to comment before News/North press deadline.

“Obviously, we’re super disappointed,” Yellowknife Women’s Society executive director Bree Denning said Friday. “We were really hoping this would be a solution that would have over 40 people in housing pretty quickly.”

Denning said the CMHC declined the society’s proposal last Friday.

Denning had a meeting with the Housing Corp. last Tuesday. Without the support of NWT Housing Corporation, she said, its federal counterpart won’t move forward.

Like Alty, she said the GNWT had made no indication to the YWS that it was against the proposal. Both learned of the GNWT’s apparent non-support of the project from the CMHC.

“We’ve been talking about the project and writing letters to the minister and to key players on their end for almost a year now, and this is the first we heard that they’re not supportive,” Denning said.

Mayor Alty said in an interview Friday that she detailed her concerns in an email to Housing Minister Paulie Chinna Thursday. They included the NWT Housing Corporation’s failure to contact the the women’s society to discuss its concerns, and a request for an explanation as to why the Housing Corporation ultimately decided to withhold its support.

In an interview, Alty asked whether the territorial government’s role was inaction – meaning it didn’t provide any verbal or written notice of support – or if they actively opposed it.

“Either way it looks like the project’s not going to happen,” she said, noting her frustration that it didn’t gain the go-ahead from the higher orders of government, but also signalling that she was hopeful Premier Caroline Cochrane would step in and ask the CMHC to reconsider.

Alty expressed frustration that the YWS was ready to create the housing process in short order, and wondered in her Facebook post whether the GNWT was prepared to fill the gap in the meantime.

She also encouraged residents sympathetic to the project to contact their MLAs.

The application that was just turned down, meanwhile, took nine months. The owners of the hotel have already extended a deadline they set last July to March of this year.

“It’s an opportunity we’re going to lose to a tourism business,” Denning said.

Sandra Turner, a northern housing specialist at CMHC, said that the society can resubmit the project for another evaluation, but first must “remedy some of the shortfalls in the application.”

Turner said CMHC remains committed to helping community groups create affordable housing.

“Our support to this group … is no exception,” she said.

The application for funding sought $600,000 from the GNWT and $2.25 million from the CMHC, Denning said. Those numbers respectively increased to $660,000 and $4 million after a CMHC feasibility study tasked the society with renovating for accessibility and energy efficiency.

On Friday, Denning was unsure of what the society’s next steps ought to be.

“There’s really no other building that meets that need,” she said. “And a new build, from conception and funding, usually takes about five years to come to fruition. Whereas we have people on the streets right now that need this resource,” she said.

“It’s incredibly disappointing.”

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