Three MLAs representing small, jobs-starved communities say the N.W.T. Housing Corporation's use of modular homes is costing locals construction jobs, but the housing minister says the homes are saving the government money at a time of declining federal support for housing.
Frederick Blake, the MLA for the Mackenzie Delta, says that residents in Tsiigehtchic were disappointed to learn the housing corporation was shipping pre-built modular homes, instead of building stick-built homes from scratch in the community.
He says the switch means locals lost out on at least $100,000 worth of employment.
"It sounds to me like the department is supporting taking jobs away from our communities," said Blake.
Tom Beaulieu, the MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, and Shane Thompson, the MLA for Nahendeh, expressed similar concerns about modular homes in their respective constituencies.
"The communities need jobs," said Beaulieu.
"When we have an opportunity to build something in the community... why would the housing corporation take the strong position that it has to be modular homes in order to save [money] when the more important factor is that communities needs jobs?"
800 people on wait list for housing
Caroline Cochrane, the minister in charge of the housing corporation, says Northern companies have won contracts to supply modular homes, which brought "significant savings" of 30 per cent compared to the stick-built proposals from other companies.
"We have 800 people on our wait list for public housing that are actually homeless and sleeping on people's couches," she said. "If we can save 30 per cent that's huge."
"The housing corporation is still using our community members to do the repairs, so we're not forgetting about them," she added.
Thompson said that while Northerners might get hired to build construction pads, "companies come in, drop the modular homes down. They bring their own food, their own gas, and their own accommodation."
Beaulieu suggested the housing corporation increase the financial support aimed at spurring private developers to build market housing units.
"The N.W.T. Housing Corporation did try to increase it," said Cochrane. "It started at $25,000, it was increased to $50,000 to try to get more Northern businesses. We still didn't have enough uptake with even increasing it to $50,000."
Cochrane added that the housing corporation will be soliciting proposals for more market housing this spring, and that "we're trying to get [Northern manufacturing firms] to actually be able to come forward and actually be more competitive in their pricing."