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Increase in rental units might help house teachers
Housing Corp. says 169 new houses built over next three years

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 17, 2014

Thirty new homes hoped to be constructed by the end of 2015 in the territory's smallest communities could be a step toward solving the NWT's housing crunch, say staff from the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC).

Revi Lau-a, manager of strategic planning, policy and communications with the NWTHC, said proposals in the corporation's capital budget estimates include building 169 market housing units over the next three years.

"These units are not identified for teachers, but by the creation of new units in communities, we're providing more opportunities for all frontline workers and all community workers to access quality housing," Lau-a said.

Lau-a wasn't able to comment on where construction could begin first, but said plans were guided by information compiled for a report published by the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association last April.

"We also consulted with them when we developed the allocation model for where a lot of these units should be built," he said.

Lau-a said 100 units would be constructed by the NWTHC and the other 69 would be built by developers through a new incentive program, which is being based on the corporation's former Housing for Staff program.

Some teachers in the NWT say they're concerned about educators renting housing privately owned by District Education Authority board members and principals in some communities.

Jim, an NWT teacher who spoke to News/North on the condition of anonymity, said he and other teachers believe educators paying rent to principals and DEA board members is a conflict of interest.

He said teachers are often afraid to come forward with housing issues when they live in a house owned by the principal of their school or a member of an education board.

"You have to talk to the person who is your landlord, but also your administrator, your boss basically, about that entire situation," he said. "Especially with first-year teachers who are in kind of a volatile situation, having to be monitored and assessed and evaluated by that exact same person."

Gayla Meredith, president of the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association (NWTTA), said principals evaluate teacher performance.

Meredith said the issue about teachers renting from DEA board members or principals has not been raised to the NWTTA and would provide no further comment.

"At this point, I'm not speaking to a hypothetical question," she said.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) also said it could not comment on whether staff paying rent directly to employers or DEA members was a conflict of interest.

Jim said newly hired teachers are especially vulnerable when coming into a community for the first time.

"It's just a very small group of power players that can afford the properties or afford to build the houses in these communities," he said. "Then they have the first selection of people who are coming into the community."

Meredith said the NWTTA has been working on an information package for educators, which contains information about housing availability throughout the NWT.

Currently, housing for teachers is provided through private rental units or through the NWTHC's Market Housing program.

"We're working with the departments of education and housing to see how we can best pull all of those pieces together so that new teachers going into communities have access to what all the potential housing options are," she said.

Meredith said in August, representatives from NWTHC, ECE and NWTTA held an information session in Inuvik to better inform teachers about housing availability and how to address chronic housing repairs and maintenance issues.

Last year, more than 200 teachers participated in surveys about their living situations as part of a two-part report on teacher housing issues published by the NWTTA in April. They shared experiences about living without heat or hot water when furnaces broke down or spending thousands of dollars on unexpected fuel costs every month.

Jim said little has improved since the NWTTA released its report.

Robert, another teacher, said his rent increased to $2,000 after repairs were performed to his house this year. Fuel costs can run as much as $700 a month and, while bills are currently split between a group of roommates, Robert said if someone moves out, costs would become even higher.

In the NWTTA report, teachers highlighted issues such as living with up to five roommates, having to heat water pipes with an electrical heater in order to take showers and paying $2,500 a month for meagerly heated trailer homes.

The report also found that half of all teachers who responded were spending between 40 and 50 per cent of their disposable income on shelter-related costs.

"As evidenced in this report through some of the anecdotal statements from teachers, conditions in many situations are well below acceptable standards," the report stated. "This type of environment at first leads to unhappy teachers and, in the end, often results in teachers deciding to leave the North or their communities."

Robert said in other jurisdictions in Canada, housing for teachers is provided at reasonable rental rates. Robert said he believes NWT should adopt a similar system to those in place for other essential services staff.

Lau-a said the new building project will build an average of six units per community throughout the territory, which will lessen the shortage of housing.

"I think that we really expect that many of the housing pressures and especially with respect to availability and accessibility . . . many of those will be alleviated through some of these actions that we're proposing over the next few years," he said.

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