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On hold, or hold on a second

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Hay River (Mar 20/06) - A long-awaited seniors housing complex in Hay River has hit a bump in the road, but how big of a bump depends on who's doing the talking.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Developer Duncan Cooke, the president of Arcan Construction, holds a drawing of a proposed seniors housing complex for Hay River.

The structure

  • The three-storey structure would have a minimum of 18 one-bedroom units, and possibly 27.
  • The NWT Housing Corporation plans to put $450,000 into the not-for-profit project. That figure includes a $190,000 piece of land.
  • In all, $850,000 is needed to start construction, and the rest of the overall project cost will be raised by a mortgage.
  • The seniors society has raised $100,000 in donations, which will be matched with $100,000 from an estate. Arcan will also invest $200,000.
  • The housing corporation investment is based on the complex providing 18 units with rent $200 a month less than market value. The other units would be available without subsidy and the rents would be higher.
  • The investment from the Housing Corp. would be forgiven after 10 years.
  • The Hay River Seniors Society have already invested $20,000 in a feasibility study and pre-design.

  • The Hay River Seniors Society and a private developer say they were told last week by the NWT Housing Corporation that the GNWT's promised share of funding to start the $3.4-million Whispering Willows project has been put on hold.

    "This is a little late in the game to be second-guessing and to be pulling the rug out from under so many who have donated their time and money for a project for senior citizens," said developer Duncan Cooke, president of Arcan Construction.

    Meanwhile, Jeff Anderson, acting president of the housing corporation, says it simply wants to ensure the project will be successful before a final agreement is signed, describing it as a fluid and evolutionary process. "I don't think we're that far apart," he says.

    As Cooke explains it, questions about the project arose when the housing corporation came in for various criticisms from MLAs during the territorial budget review. Members of the Committee of the Whole were concerned the project might face vacancies, like corporation-constructed public housing for seniors in Tuktoyaktuk and Fort Resolution.

    "Those are very different projects and an unfair comparison to the Hay River seniors complex," Cooke said, adding the project would not be public housing.

    When he contacted the corporation last week about reviewing the final amendments of a draft agreement, he says he was advised by Anderson that Premier Joe Handley had asked that the project be put on hold.

    Anderson says the premier did not make such a request. When News/North asked for an interview with the premier, the request was referred to the housing corporation president.

    "Everyone has an in interest in having a successful project and that's what we're working towards," he says.

    Cooke says he was also told the proposal now requires cabinet approval to ensure it will provide affordable housing, and that enough people are interested in renting in the building.

    "We believe that we have this," Cooke said, pointing to 48 signatures of people interested in moving into the complex in the near future.

    Anderson said he has no instructions to take the project to cabinet for final approval.

    Anderson says there is really no hold on the project because no final agreement has been signed.

    Criteria has to be met to ensure a successful project, especially that enough people are willing to move into the building, he explained.

    "If the clients are there, I think it would be a great project for the community," Anderson says, adding he has questions about the list of names and their exact level of interest.

    The directors of the seniors society met March 15 and voted unanimously to continue to support the Whispering Willows project.

    "We feel very confident that it can be resolved," says society president Eileen Collins, who notes the project has been talked about for more than a decade.

    "It's been a bit of a ride, but this in fact may be a blessing in disguise," she says. "We intend to meet with officials and try to get this cleared up."

    She believes the project can still begin in late May or early June. "I'm sure we'll be on track. There is a big need."