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Advisory board recommends federal funding be spent on housing, rental arrears

The city is debating how they will spend $1.5 million in federal funding, earmarked to deal with homelessness issues caused by COVID-19.

Yellowknife’s community advisory board on homelessness was made aware of the funding by city administration, which must be spent prior to March 31, 2021.

The committee recommended the money go towards three separate funds.

Around $300,000 will go towards rental arrears — covering overdue payments — and support for people at “imminent risk of homelessness,” according to minutes from the meeting, posted on the city’s website.

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Another $300,000 will go to the YWCA, also to provide rental support and arrears. 

The largest chunk of funding, up to $812,100, will provide 20 shelter beds and ten shelter rooms for families for people at risk of homelessness. The committee also recommended the city ask the federal government if a local charity or non-governmental organization could take over the Aspen Apartments building, located on 51 Street.

“This would provide a cost effective alternative housing option for individuals who are unable to maintain rental housing for years to come,” according to minutes from the governance and committee meeting on November 30.

Renovations for the building would cost around $1.6 million, according to notes from the meeting.

There’s a number of housing funds available to the city currently:

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The community advisory board had previously received an allocation of $500,000 from the same federal fund, aimed at dampening the impacts of COVID-19 on homelessness, with nearly $200,000 still left to be allocated. 

A portion of this funding was allocated to the YWCA, Side Door Youth Ministries, the Salvation Army and the Yellowknife Women’s Society to address various programs those organizations offered.

COVID-19 has exacerbated existing financial issues for many families, including putting more people in unstable housing situations, according to Statistics Canada.

There is currently $150,000 in rental arrears outstanding from Yellowknife residents.

While the YK Housing Authority is “not currently actively evicting individuals and families with arrears, once the pandemic either slows down or comes to an end it is inevitable that evictions will start again and individuals and families with arrears will be evicted,” the meeting minutes read.

The committee is looking for an extension to the deadline to spend the funding. The group asked the mayor to write to the relevant federal ministers to ask for the extension.

In a November 30 special committee meeting, the Mayor Rebecca Alty tabled a decision on the advisory board’s proposals until she has heard from the federal government about whether the city can have an extension on the funding. Alty added sometimes the policy and caveats the federal government puts on funding “gets in the way” of setting up more permanent housing.

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Alty said she brought this forward to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his meeting with leaders from across the territory back in October.

“Let’s make sure we fully pursue our options, before we decide anything,” said Alty.

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