Some Indigenous groups surprised to learn of $60M housing fund for N.W.T.

Indigenous leaders expressed surprise that the N.W.T. government didn't tell them about a $60 million federal fund earmarked for housing projects in the territory but the housing minister said she's toured a few communities this past summer to let them know about it.

Leaders say fund never mentioned in recent housing discussions with territorial government

April Martel, chief of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation, was surprised to hear there is a $60-million federal fund earmarked for housing in N.W.T. She said the fund could do a lot for her community. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Some Indigenous leaders were surprised to learn that $60 million in federal funding is available for housing projects in the Northwest Territories.

"How long [has the territorial government] been sitting on it?" asked Jean Marie River Chief Stanley Sanguez. "Because when I had a meeting with the minister and [NWT Housing Corp. president and CEO] Tom Williams and their colleagues from Yellowknife in Fort Simpson, they never said anything about that $60 million."

The fund, specifically earmarked for housing projects in the Northwest Territories, was announced in a minister's statement by then Housing Minister Alfred Moses almost two years ago. But it appears that, until recently, little more was done to advertise it.

"This is a shock to me, that there's $60 million in the N.W.T.," said Katlodeeche First Nation (KFN) Chief April Martel. "I'm just looking for $20,000 so our people on the reserve can have running water. This fund can do so much for KFN."

Martel said she has asked for housing money in numerous meetings and teleconferences with government officials, including Premier Caroline Cochrane, and no mention was made of the federal funding.

Housing minister toured territory

On Wednesday, Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corp., said she and Williams had toured the Northwest Territories last summer with a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. official to let people know about the program.

On Friday, Chinna clarified that they had only made it to 14 of 33 communities during the tour. Chinna said the travel was been delayed by difficulties the CMHC representative had in getting authorization to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's been a lot of talk about the application process, that it hasn't been advertised and it hasn't been out there," said Chinna. "To date we probably have a dozen applications right now."

She said some of the projects have already been funded, but would not say for how much. She emphasized the program is being administered by the federal government.

"It's not funding that is given to the Northwest Territories Housing Corp.," said the minister. "This is funding that is available to stakeholders, Indigenous groups, the private sector. So in order for them to access the funds, they have to apply to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp."

The fund will pay up to 75 per cent of the cost of a housing project. Chinna said the NWT Housing Corp. may be willing to provide some of the remaining funding and will provide other supports.

"We've got our design plans, we've already built nine-plexes, duplexes, single family dwellings. We already have those available to the public and to the applicants that are interested in constructing in their own community," she said.

CBC asked CMHC what steps it has taken to let people know the fund exists. It did not provide any specific examples, but said in an email, it is "continuously engaging in community outreach to potential housing partners in Northwest Territories."

Chinna said the NWT Housing Corp. is advertising for a project officer who will be dedicated to helping groups apply for the funding. On Friday, the minister said she is hoping the position will be filled by the end of November.