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Social housing funding dwindles

Brodie Thomas
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 14, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - Provincial and territorial housing ministers say they are disappointed with the federal government's lack of commitment on housing issues.

"We, the provinces and territories, are trying to convince the federal government to engage in dialogue and convince them that they have a responsibility. They just can't walk away from social housing across this land when there is such a huge and growing need," said Michael Miltenberger, the housing minister for the Northwest Territories.

Miltenberger and the 12 other housing ministers were in Gatineau, Que., for a meeting with Monte Solberg, the federal minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

As of Dec. 31, 2007, the NWT had 2,357 public housing units in use across the territory, housing 4,978 tenants, according to the Northwest Territories housing corporation.

There were no concrete agreements reached between the two levels of government. Provincial and territorial leaders have made plans to meet in St. John's, Nfld., in September to hold formal talks regarding social housing.

A spokesperson from Solberg's office said she could not confirm if the federal minister would be attending the St. John's conference.

Neither Solberg nor anyone from his office was available for comment, but he did state in a press release that he felt the talks had been positive.

"Our discussions were a positive step towards achieving a better understanding of the housing needs and priorities across Canada," said Solberg.

Miltenberger and the other provincial and territorial ministers did not share the same perspective. They said the federal government is not providing a firm response to any of the issues they raised.

"There are a number of issues that are time sensitive. We have about 10 months left for about five major programs like the affordable housing initiative that is worth, for us, 10s of millions of dollars. It's going to lapse in March of 2009," said Miltenberger.

The CMHC is slowly reducing contributions to the provinces and territories for social housing. Currently, the funding is set to stop altogether in 2037. Miltenberger said if the decrease in funding were to continue as projected, the territory would be short $390 million by 2037.

"The CMHC made a decision quite a few years ago to back out of social housing. What happens is, as mortgages are paid off, their contribution stops unit by unit. Of course as these units are paid off, they're in their twilight years. They are 25- and 30-years-old," said Miltenberger.

Miltenberger said he would like to see the federal government help with the cost of bringing older units up to new energy-efficient standards.

Although social housing is an especially pressing issue in the North, Miltenberger said the provinces and territories all spoke of problems with social housing.

"We all have very ancient and deteriorating housing stock. In every jurisdiction it is a big and growing shortage. We've also all agreed that we're going to bring this issue back to our cabinets and hopefully our premiers and finance ministers to bring this issue up to the national table to give it more weight and importance. We need to press the federal government to engage in a meaningful long-term way that will hopefully bring a long-term resolution," said Miltenberger.

Mayor Mervin Gruben of Tuktoyaktuk said his community depends on social housing because of the community's location.

"Housing is everything for our people. There aren't too many people who own their own houses. With the price of fuel and the price of power, it is pretty outrageous. You have to be pretty rich to own your own house nowadays. A good proportion of the town is in public housing. The more they cut back, the tougher it is going to be. You'll have more families living together and that just creates more illnesses when you have more people in confined spaces. It is not a good atmosphere for kids to grow up in, but a lot of the time people just don't have a choice," he said.

Gruben said the housing situation in Tuktoyaktuk is fairly good at the moment, but cutbacks to social housing would be felt in Tuktoyaktuk.

"I think we have a bit of a waiting list, but not terribly bad. It's not years like in some of the communities. If there are more cutbacks it is not going to be like that forever."