N.W.T. Housing Corp seeks legal advice over delayed opening of Fort Good Hope seniors home

After the opening of a seniors home in Fort Good Hope was repeatedly pushed back from the Feb 2021 opening date, the housing corporation is consulting with lawyers and has a new team of engineers to finalize its opening.

Housing corporation working with new engineers and architects to finalize building assessments

The Fort Good Hope Seniors Centre, which is designed to provide community home care to as many as eight elders, was officially opened in Fort Good Hope in February 2021, but no seniors live there. (GNWT cabinet communications)

N.W.T. Housing Minister Paulie Chinna says her department is seeking legal advice about the circumstances that have left Fort Good Hope's new seniors home empty for more than 13 months.

Chinna cut the ribbon on the new nine-unit facility last year, but no seniors have been able to move in yet. In January, the N.W.T. Housing Corporation said the delay was because the Office of the Fire Marshal had found "fire protection, signage and exiting" issues during an inspection.

Chinna has not publicly stated how much the delays are costing the territorial government and there is no firm date for when seniors can move in. 

In the Legislative Assembly on Feb. 22, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson asked Chinna why the opening has been repeatedly delayed.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson says he has been trying to get answers about when the Fort Good Hope seniors home will open. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"It appears there's some sort of three-way dispute going on between the Office of the Fire Marshal, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and at least one of the contractors," he told CBC.

Figuring out where the blame lies could take years, said Johnson. 

The opening dates kept shifting, and "now, they just stopped giving me a date of when they think this would be open," he said. 

In Fort Good Hope, where more than 500 people live, housing is in high demand and the government built the nine units to help seniors age in place.

'Extraordinary and complex'

Facing an "extraordinary and complex" situation, Chinna's department is seeking legal advice from the justice department. All of that advice is "privileged and confidential," she wrote in a response to oral questions tabled in the Legislative Assembly on March 3. 

Chinna told the assembly on Feb. 22 that following the grand opening, the fire marshal found problems with "fire separation" and said the housing corporation is undertaking remediation work, which is electric, structural, architectural and mechanical in nature. 

Housing Minister Paulie Chinna said her department is seeking legal advice about the circumstances that led the Fort Good Hope seniors home to remain empty for over a year. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

The original build was tendered as two separate components, which is why the project's deficiencies were only identified after the facility was finished, she said.

The housing corporation is pressing the contractor for a completed remediation plan and Chinna said her department can only announce an opening after private engineers complete a mechanical review. 

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Municipal and Community Affairs Department said the Office of the Fire Marshal had not done any follow up inspections on the units and that they are waiting on a progress report from the housing corporation.

The municipal affairs department wrote that questions about the status of the unit should be directed to the housing corporation.

Through a spokesperson, Northwest Territories Housing Corporation president Eleanor Young declined an interview and instead provided a written statement which repeated information Chinna tabled in the assembly.

The housing corporation is working with a professional architecture and engineering firm to complete the project and is "nearing the finalization" of structural assessments, wrote Chinna in her March 3 letter. 

Remaining assessments and a "work plan" will be completed in several weeks, she said.