North

Woman fleeing violence struggling to get new public housing unit

A woman fleeing violence from her ex-husband is struggling to get a new public housing unit, an all too-common situation says the executive director of the N.W.T. YWCA.

N.W.T. Housing Corporation says it doesn’t have vacant units to move people into on short notice

A woman who was the victim of a violent stabbing by her ex-husband two years ago is struggling to be placed in a public housing unit where she hasn’t been attacked. While her ordeal may be unique, a women's advocate says a limited supply of housing in the territory for victims of intimate partner violence is not.  (CBC News)

The victim of a violent stabbing by her ex-husband two years ago is struggling to be placed in a public housing unit where she hasn't been attacked. 

It's a problem which highlights the difficulties faced by women fleeing violence when they try to find safe homes for their families.

The woman, who CBC is choosing not to name in order to protect her children's privacy, lives in public housing. 

She says that when her family grew more than two years ago, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) put her on a wait list for a bigger unit. 

Then, her ex-husband broke into their home to stab her. After that, she says, it felt even more urgent for her family to move somewhere else, where he wouldn't know where she lived.

The housing corporation won't speak to individual client situations. However, it says that it usually doesn't have the housing stock to move people when they're facing intimate partner violence.

"Unfortunately, we typically do not have any occupiable vacant units available to move people into on short notice," wrote Charles Sanders, spokesperson for the NWTHC, in an email. 

"In situations where someone has immediate shelter needs due to domestic violence, we refer them to family violence shelters."

New urgency to live somewhere else

The woman says her family did spend time in shelters after the attack before her ex was put in jail. Since the stabbing, she has been harassed by people she believes are friends of her ex (who pled guilty to the attack in November and remains in prison). 

CBC reviewed court documents that confirmed one man was charged by police for throwing rocks at her when she was on her property this year. 

The woman says the agency did manage to find her different public housing in 2016 after an earlier attack by her ex-husband, but only because she found her son a place to stay with his grandparents. 

Since then, her family grew and she started asking for a bigger unit. 

After the aggravated assault in 2018, she felt a new urgency to live somewhere else so he wouldn't know the address — and she didn't want to live near where she was attacked in 2016, a location she finds traumatic. 

Sanders says there are currently 18 households on the waiting list for a four-bedroom unit in Yellowknife. 

"The ease of finding suitable housing accommodation within our current portfolio can change depending on the level of demand and available units," he wrote.

Lack of housing options hurdle in fleeing violence

While this woman's ordeal may be unique, a women's advocate says a limited supply of housing in the territory for victims of intimate partner violence is not. 

Hawa Dumbuya-Sesay is executive director of the YWCA in the Northwest Territories, which runs shelters that many women flee to when they experience violence. 

She says a lack of housing options becomes a main hurdle for many women as they flee violence and try to find a permanent, safe place to live. 

"Some women … lose hope and give up in trying," she says.

Public housing has a lengthy waitlist, with some people spending years hoping a unit will open up, she says. 

Meanwhile, many market options remain unaffordable and out of reach, she says. 

Recent statistics from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation show that an average two-bedroom rental in Yellowknife costs $1,744 a month, and from 2018 to 2019, the city's vacancy rate shrunk to 4.2 per cent — meaning there are fewer options for people trying to rent. 

now