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Evicted in Paulatuk
Families being removed from homes as housing corporation tackles $500,000 in arrears

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 15, 2011

Two families have been forced out of their Paulatuk public housing homes over the past three weeks after getting behind on their rent, and some residents say the number of evictions will only rise in the coming months.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Paulatuk Housing Association administers 53 public housing units and manages eight market rental units for the NWT Housing Corporation. Above, an arial view of Paulatuk earlier this year. - Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison/NNSL photo

"The housing policy has to change," said Lawrence Ruben, director of the Inuvialuit Game Council.

"They need to have a little compassion for the problems that people are having, and that's all we're asking."

One family of six, after being evicted from their house, moved into a tent outside a relative's home.

A friend of the family, who asked not to be identified, said a lack of jobs combined with a lack of communication between the housing association and tenants is putting the community's housing situation in a downward spiral.

"It's getting to the point that we're going to have homeless people in a town of 300," she said.

"Are we supposed to revert back to the old ways and build huts that we used to live in years ago?"

The Paulatuk Housing Association administers 53 public housing units and manages eight market rental units for the NWT Housing Corporation, according to Keith Dowling, its manager.

Of the 53 public housing units, more than 65 per cent of the tenants are in arrears. In total, Paulatuk's tenants owe more than $500,000 to the housing association.

In comparison, there are fewer than 20 privately-owned homes in the community.

Ruben said those private homes are now extremely overcrowded because they're the only place an evicted tenant can go, aside from pitching a tent or moving out to camp.

Rent for public housing in Paulatuk is variable, at 30 per cent of the tenant's income, or just $32 if they're living off

of social assistance.

Dowling estimates that, on average, 60 per cent of people in public housing are paying $32 for rent, which includes heat and part of their electricity.

Ruben said this system discourages people from

finding jobs and makes it hard to have a regular monthly budget when rent can

fluctuate so widely.

As a result, most families live off of char, whitefish, caribou and beluga meat to save money, he said.

"I would say 90 per cent of the community lives off the land. It's basically what they can afford to eat," he said.

In the past two years, six families have been ordered to vacate their homes, but not without notice, according to Dowling.

"I can't speak to the way the (NWT) Housing Corp sets up its policies. All I can say is that people living in housing in Paulatuk are provided an exceptionally long time and every opportunity to address the rent arrears before any action is taken against them," he said.

When tenants fall behind in rent, they receive letters every month, plus a monthly statement with the total amount they owe.

To pay the amount down, Dowling said tenants usually enter into a payment plan where they pay a set amount over and above what they owe for rent.

"If they're in rented accommodation they have to pay rent. This is not news. We're not breaking any new ground here. We didn't just discover the world is round," he said.

In the past, they've had arrears up to $70,000 for a single household, he added.

Ruben said residents are living in fear and need an option other than the "cut and dry" approach of the local housing association.

Dowling said he's just doing his job.

"I understand that they're going to be very upset and frustrated and worried about where they're going to live next, and therefore people's emotions run high. Unfortunately, here in Paulatuk, there seems to be a shoot-the-messenger kind of response and it's just so short-sighted," he said.

"The times have changed. In years gone by, it would seem there was a fairly relaxed approach to the collection of rent in the communities, but I think over the past few years the GNWT's kind of paid attention to it and looked at their books more closely and seen there's a significant amount of money owed to them by tenants of public housing programs, and, obviously, this is all taxpayers' money we're talking about spending here."

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