Yellowknife city council is weighing up an application for $25 million in funding from the federal government to retrofit a building in order to provide permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness.
The city is “so very conflicted” about pursuing the project, Sheila Bassi-Kellet, city administrator with the city of Yellowknife said in a committee meeting on Monday.
This is because the city has large projects already lined up, including the new aquatic centre project, improvements to the city’s water intake line and plans for expansion in the Kam Lake area.
“If we were to be successful on this, the full work around project managing a retrofit with $25 million would be a huge amount of work that our staff would be undertaking,” Sheila Bassi-Kellet said in a committee meeting on Monday.
“We have some massive projects on our plate right now,” she added. “So there is only so much capacity in the overall management of projects like that, that we have.”
The plan presented to city council involved the city applying for funding, managing the retrofit project, then handing off the building for a non-profit to run and distribute the housing.
No building as of yet has been identified as the location for these new housing units, but Bassi-Kellet said there are a couple of sites being looked at.
The YWCA is also planning an application for funding from the same federal program to provide affordable housing in Yellowknife.
The Rapid Housing Initiative is a $1 billion fund aimed at addressing urgent housing needs by rapidly building affordable homes.
Half of the cash is designated for several larger municipalities, with the most money going to Toronto. The other $500 million is available to other groups, ranging from Indigenous governments to smaller cities like Yellowknife.
Councillor Shauna Morgan said the city should look at options that require less in terms of renovations and allow them to act more strategically with city resources.
“In the past, we’ve given into that temptation of, ‘Oh, there’s funding available, let’s just do it just to do this big project,’” said Morgan on Monday. “And there’s a rush around it. And then we regret it afterwards, because of the amount of staff time and investment that gets poured into it over a long period of time.”
The city’s own 10-year housing strategy identifies the need for 80 new units of housing to be built in Yellowknife.
Similar projects to the one proposed by city council have happened in Yellowknife in the past. Bailey’s House, a men’s shelter on Franklin Avenue, was a retrofitted building that was handed-off to the Salavtion Army to run. That project was also funded by federal money.
Councillor Niels Konge said the city should move quickly to secure funding to “solve one of the biggest problems in our community.”
“We have counselors using words like downsides and burden,” he said. “I don’t know — if somebody wants to give me $25 million to help solve problems, there’s no downside. There’s no burden to be had.”
Councillor Robin Williams reiterated Konge’s comments, saying the retrofitted building would become a tangible asset for the city.
“Pumping $25 million worth of infrastructure spending, not on the backs of the municipal taxpayer,” said Williams. “I think that it would be a huge win for the community.”
He added the fact that several major projects would be underway at the same time should be welcomed by the city, as it could bring “a building boom” to Yellowknife.
The application has to be submitted by December 31 and does not require a vote by city council.
Councillors approved a motion in the committee meeting to have more discussion about the project at the next council meeting.