Woman 'appalled' by empty federal housing in Hay River

While people in Hay River, N.W.T., struggle to find housing, 11 government-owned homes in the community are sitting empty. One of them has been empty for 11 years.

Federal government spends roughly $4,000 per year to maintain each vacant unit

Empty federal housing in Hay River has some residents asking questions. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

While people in Hay River, N.W.T., struggle to find housing, 11 government-owned homes are sitting empty.

One of them has been empty for 11 years.

Public Services and Procurement Canada owns a total of 20 houses in Hay River, and while not all of the units are RCMP housing, the majority are. Public Services spends about $4,000 a year per house on maintenance. That includes heat, landscaping and snow removal. Taking into account how long each unit has been sitting empty, the federal government has spent roughly $192,000 total on maintenance for the 11 houses.

Three of the 11 empty houses are designated for RCMP use. 

Of the 20 homes, nine are occupied and four of the 11 unoccupied houses are pending occupancy.

Shari Caudron lives near some of the empty houses. She has extensive experience working with people facing homelessness in Hay River. She says she's "appalled" that taxpayer money is going toward maintaining vacant houses while some people struggle to find a place to live.

One Hay River resident thinks these empty homes would make great transitional housing if the government isn't using them. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"You see the people on the streets, that's one thing, but I think the biggest underlying principle is the people that you don't see," she said. "The ones that are couch-surfing. The ones that are trying to get ahead, to get a job."

Caudron said she would like to see the homes used as transitional housing, where people can go if they are recovering from addiction or coming out of jail.

Tom Corrigan, spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said in an email that demand for the government housing fluctuates, so the department needs to keep them available for staff.

"An overall decline in demand for housing in recent years in communities where [the department] provides housing has resulted in several units remaining vacant," he said.

He also said sometimes houses might sit vacant while they are being repaired or renovated.

Right now, seven of the units in Hay River have been identified for "disposal." That means the department will offer Crown corporations, federal, territorial and municipal governments the opportunity to acquire the houses. If there's no interest, they are put up for sale.

"The potential for surplus units to address homelessness and affordable housing priorities is also considered via the disposal process," wrote Corrigan.

For certain properties, the department needs to consult with Indigenous organizations, conduct property appraisals, environmental assessments, and possibly conduct remediation work before selling.

The houses that have been listed for disposal received multiple expressions of interest in February.