Income threshold rules cause housing woes for some seniors, says N.W.T. MLA

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos says the income thresholds in the N.W.T.'s housing policy is keeping seniors from applying for public housing.

Housing minister says department could review income thresholds later

Thebacha MLA is calling for adjustments around public housing income rules for seniors. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos says prohibitive income threshold rules are "discriminatory" and keep seniors in her region from applying for public housing.

"This is not an acceptable or just policy. The NWT Housing Corporation must start accounting for clients' age and mobility when determining their eligibility for public housing. It cannot be about income," Martselos said in the Legislative Assembly Friday. 

An elderly couple in Fort Smith in their 80s has tried for years  — with no success — to move into a more suitable home to address their mobility, safety and social needs as seniors, said Martselos.

They were denied eligibility because their combined monthly income exceeds the threshold. 

The core income threshold rules have not been reviewed since 2015, and Housing Minister Paulie Chinna said she is open to reviewing the core income need threshold to see if it meets residents' needs. 

"The needs for seniors have changed significantly over the last 20 years," said Chinna. 

Core need income threshold is a housing policy which the territory's housing corporation uses to determine which individuals qualify for public housing. It's based on the applicants income level.

It decides whether a person should be able to own or operate a home without government assistance. 

"The core income threshold has been a repetitive issue to a number of my senior constituents applying for public housing," Martselos said.

 "There can be no discrimination against seniors. Period."  

Chinna added that the housing corporation must balance demands from families, single parents, and people fighting addiction. 

Saskatchewan insurance model suggested

In January, the territorial government announced changes to housing repair programs for seniors. The amendments get rid of the requirement for home insurance and formal land tenure and instead only assess their incomes. 

On Friday, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly made note that insurance is difficult to obtain or is simply too expensive, especially in smaller communities.

Yellowknife Catholic Schools, for example, struggle to find insurance for their schools, and premiums have increased over 600 per cent in the last two years, said O'Reilly.

He urged the finance minister to reach out to the Saskatchewan Government, which founded its own government corporation to serve where the private market could or would not provide coverage. 

It now operates in five provinces.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said she is willing to reach out to the Saskatchewan government about its insurance company to consider extending their services to the N.W.T.