City of Yellowknife eligible for $25M for new housing for people who are homeless

City councillors discussed on Monday whether to apply for federal money that would be used to create new, permanent supportive housing.

City administration warns new housing initiative could bump other priorities

Yellowknife city councillors broadly support creating new housing for people who are homeless, but the city's senior administrative officer says taking on a new housing initiative would be a significant strain on city resources. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

The City of Yellowknife can apply for $25 million in federal money for new, supportive housing for people facing homelessness, but a city official warns that a new housing initiative could displace other city projects.

"This would be a very ambitious undertaking for the city, and ... if this were to be managed by city staff, I do need to stress that this would mean a reallocation of other priorities," Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city's senior administrative officer, said during a governance and priorities committee meeting on Monday.

"Other projects and responsibilities would not be achieved if this one came to the top of the list."

The federal money is part of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Rapid Housing Initiative, a $1-billion program prompted by the COVID-19 crisis that's meant to quickly create affordable housing across the country.

The city says the amount for which Yellowknife is eligible would be used to buy and renovate an existing building, or build a modular structure, for permanent, supportive housing, as well as space for programming and possibly a "social enterprise" that could employ residents. The city hasn't yet picked a specific location for the project.

Permanent supportive housing is long-term housing and support for people who are homeless and living with mental health or physical issues, or addiction. According to a Nov. 23 city memo and Yellowknife's 10-year plan to end homelessness, the city needs 80 new permanent supportive housing units.

Capacity a 'huge concern'

Bassi-Kellett said a new supportive housing development would advance Yellowknife's 10-year plan to end homelessness, but whether it has the resources to undertake a major new housing initiative is a "huge concern."

There are "some big, big projects that are going on within the same window as this," she said, listing a proposed new aquatic centre, replacement of the city's aging submarine water intake line, and development in the Kam Lake neighbourhood.

"I'm very much in favour of having permanent supportive housing within Yellowknife," said Bassi-Kellett. "I am a bit concerned about our capacity on the ground to be able to deliver a project of this magnitude." 

The city's administration says the federal funding would allow the city to hire a project manager for the housing initiative.

An absolute no-brainer

Councillors broadly endorsed increasing the city's supportive housing stock. 

"You hear a shifting of priorities being used by administration. But the reality is, if somebody says, 'Hey, there's $25 million here to help you solve one of the biggest problems you have in your community,' that becomes the priority," said Coun. Niels Konge.

Konge, who owns Yellowknife building company Konge Construction, said applying for the funding is "an absolute no-brainer."

Coun. Robin Williams echoed Konge's support for the application.

"Twenty-five million dollars worth of infrastructure spending, not on the backs of the municipal taxpayer, would be a huge win for the community," he said. "I can't support this enough.

"As far as what we're going to sacrifice, great, let's sacrifice as much as we can for $25 million of federal dollars coming into our community."

The city says the hope is the new housing and programming would be sustained through rental payments, and that a Yellowknife NGO would handle day-to-day operations.

Bassi-Kellett said the YWCA is submitting its own proposal to expand Lynn's Place, the organization's temporary housing for women. She said the territorial government is also looking into applying, but it would not necessarily put the money toward permanent supportive housing in Yellowknife. 

The funding application is due Dec. 31.