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Hosting Canada Winter Games could boost Yellowknife housing

If Yellowknife decides to host the 2023 Canada Winter Games, one consequence could be new, affordable housing for the community.

That’s the view of David Stewart, president of the NWT Housing Corporation, who has been examining some of the options available for hosting thousands of athletes in the city during the Games.

A solution could involve building barracks-style accommodation for the athletes, which can then be transformed into affordable and seniors’ housing once the Games conclude.

“The Games provide a set of standards in terms of what you can do with housing. These are often barracks-style, so you can put multiple bunk beds, for example, in each bedroom,” said Stewart, speaking at a question-and-answer session about the prospect of hosting the Games.

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“In Whitehorse [which hosted the Games in 2007], they built about 96 units. Depending on the size, it could be a little bit larger here … 100, 125 units.

“When you’re looking at the demands for affordable housing in Yellowknife as well as seniors’ housing, I’m certainly confident the demand is there for affordable housing for modest and low-income families here, if that’s the route that ends up being taken.”

Finding somewhere to put not just the athletes but also officials, VIPs, spectators and volunteers is one of the key challenges facing the City of Yellowknife and Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) as they explore the feasibility of hosting.

The Canada Winter Games move between provinces and territories on a schedule, and are due to be held in the Northwest Territories in 2023, so Yellowknife’s quandary is less bidding for the Games and more deciding whether to accept them. A decision must be made by the fall.

“We can look to the experience of Whitehorse in hosting to find out where the pitfalls are and what we need to be prepared for,” said the Mayor of Yellowknife, Mark Heyck.

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“But there’s an important distinction. The required upgrades we need are not what Whitehorse needed.”

The City would have to commit to at least $11m in combined operating and capital costs that would not otherwise be spent if not hosting the Games. (Some necessary projects, such as redeveloping the swimming pool, are expected to cost far more but are already included in long-term plans and set to happen anyway.)

The GNWT is on the hook for at least $12m, according to documents handed out at the Q&A, with much more funding coming from Sport Canada and a seven-figure sum to be found through fundraising and sponsorship.

“I think everybody is up for it. I’m excited for the athletes, especially the young athletes,” said Robert C McLeod, the minister who attended the Q&A (pictured, right, with Heyck).

“I’m excited for what it’s going to do for the development of our young athletes. We’re getting closer and closer to getting on the podium and I think, by 2023, we should be fairly competitive.”

While the chance to inspire a generation of young athletes, deliver an economic boost to local businesses and show off the city are usually listed as the bright side, Stewart stressed the opportunity to factor the Canada Winter Games into Yellowknife’s plans for housing.

“We’ll look at our long-term capital plan and say, are there replacements that need to take place? Are there ways we can align our projects? We’re in the very early days of this,” he said.

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“There is increasing demand, and demand not being met. Waiting lists are very long. There is demand out there now for social housing.

“It’s a really great opportunity not only for the sports side, but also for legacy projects.”

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