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Fort Good Hope couple builds their own home in face of housing shortage

A couple in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., didn’t qualify for social housing, and didn’t want to live with their parents, so what to do in a community with a housing crisis? Build your own home.

Benjy Louison and Natasha Landry couldn’t find a home in Fort Good Hope, so they built their own

Benjy Louison and Natasha Landry had a solution for Fort Good Hope's housing crisis: they built their own home. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Benjy Louison and Natasha Landry knew there'd be few housing options for them when they decided to move to Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., to be closer with family. The community is in the middle of a housing crisis.

"We knew about the housing shortage, we knew there [weren't] enough houses," Louison said.

"Yes, we could stay with family, we could stay with friends — we were more than welcome. But it comes down to wanting our own space."

Both Louison and Landry had jobs and didn't qualify for social housing, so they decided to build a home from scratch at the edge of town.

The home Louison and Landry built in Fort Good Hope with help from family and friends. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Two years and thousands of dollars later, Louison, Landry and their children are living in their own house, under a roof they built with help from the community.

"Every night looking at the house, we know exactly where the two-by-fours are, the two-by-sixes, the installation, knowing we built it with amazing help," Louison said.

"It's an indescribable feeling of happiness, relief, everything coming together at once when you look at your lot."

A blueprint for success?

Their story is an example of one of the major concepts to come out of a unique, three-day forum this week in Fort Good Hope. It's called responsible housing.

It's about developing programs and incentives that encourage people to take ownership and pride of their homes, like Louison and Landry have.

Their house is built with lumber shipped up the Mackenzie River from Hay River. The barge brought the supplies in September 2015. A worker dropped them off at their lot.

The rest was up to Louison, Landry, family and friends.

"It was scary, exciting, worrying," Louison said. "We didn't have carpentry skills other than just using a measuring tape or skill saw, the basic tools that one might need. We were worried we were not going to be able to do it."

The community of Fort Good Hope is in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories. It's home to about 515 people. (Google)

Developing local solutions

Dozens at the homelessness forum in Fort Good Hope expressed that sweat equity could be a long-term way out of the housing crisis, albeit not a solution for everyone to follow.

"We can get people to take pride in their homes, they can make small repairs themselves, it's about accountability," said Arthur Tobac, one of only two qualified home repairmen in Fort Good Hope and part of the housing society.

"In the past people may not have understood … they were responsible for their buildings. If they feel that their homes belong to them, they can take better care of them," he said.

In the short-term, a homeless shelter for men and women is expected to open by next fall, explained Janelle Pierrot, the housing society director. It will help the people who need a place to stay right away.

But some at the forum presented on longer term housing solutions.

George Grandjambe, a resident of Fort Good Hope, attended all three days of the housing forum. He'd like to see a better flow of information between the housing corporation and communities. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

A representative from an Ontario First Nation spoke about a program it has with major banks that helps its members access mortgages. Closer to home, Aurora College talked about enrolment in its skilled trades programs, and officials with the N.W.T. Housing Corporation explained how a number of housing and social assistance programs worked.

George Grandjambe attended all three days, asking questions and giving his thoughts on the housing crisis.

"It's an issue that needed to be dealt with in a serious way," he said. "There isn't enough information coming from the [housing corporation] down to the community level."

Grandjambe has lived in Fort Good Hope most of his life. He wants the housing corporation to add more communications officers who can work directly in the community.

"The people at the housing authority are way busy, these guys are just run ragged," he said.​

Natasha Landry, left, Benjy Louison, centre, and daughter Angelina Sangris stand out front of the home they built in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

'Get the ball rolling'

For Louison, who attended all three sessions, the forum gave people a chance to talk freely about homelessness and how it affects families and friends — something that often stays hidden.

Louison estimates his home will need another decade of work before he's finished working on it. He hopes the housing society will help with his next project: connecting the house to the power grid, which could cost up to $17,000.

What's his advice for others who want to improve their living situation? Ask for help, and get to work.

"Get the ball rolling, even if you have no experience, no nothing, just get the ball rolling. There are people who are willing to help," he said.

"People will start flocking to you to help, it's just about getting started."

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