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YK public housing faces difficulties with private landlords

After two years of waiting, John Doe is getting desperate.

Doe, whose name has been changed because he fears consequences from his landlord, has been waiting for more than two years to be moved out of his public housing unit, which he says has consistent issues with ants, worms and bed bugs. 

The unit has also flooded several times, forcing Doe to throw out furniture.

Doe lives in a public housing unit owned by Northview REIT.

He lives there with his partner and child. The child has a heart condition. Even after providing three letters of support, plus three doctors letters to the housing authority saying his living conditions were putting his son at risk, they have not been moved out of the unit.

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Initially, Doe was hoping an exterminator would be sent to deal with the bugs. Doe had been submitting complaints about an issue with bugs since he moved into the unit two years ago. An exterminator was sent a couple of months ago, but the issue wasn’t fixed.

“He told me not to worry about the worms, the ants will eat the worms.”

The Yellowknife Housing Authority manages 345 properties and two-thirds of them are owned by the authority, while they rent the other third from private landlords. Doe’s housing unit is owned by a private landlord so the authority is not responsible for maintenance.

According to Bob Bies, Chief Executive Officer of the Yellowknife Housing Authority the authority keeps track of all the work orders and meets with Northview on a regular basis to discuss. He says the situation in Yellowknife as a whole has gotten better in the past few months.

But if an issue doesn’t get resolved and the tenant complains again, Bies said he will send in the maintenance manager to assess the problem. Then they will reach out to the landlord again, saying this needs to be fixed.

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According to Bies, the speed of the response from private landlords depends on the issue.

“It’s not our job to be going in there and actually going into someone else’s building,” said Bies. “I mean, we have the right to do it, but it’s just that we got our own work to do, we don’t have that many maintenance staff. So we have to make sure that we don’t get stretched too thin.”

The YK Housing Authority has two carpenters, a boiler technician, an apprentice and the maintenance manager. 

While Bies said most issues get fixed quickly within privately owned units, he said it would be easier if the Yellowknife Housing Authority owned all their units.

“It can be frustrating dealing with other property owners just because we don’t really control the situation,” he said. “We’re going through our buildings every day, we know the situations. It makes it a heck of a lot easier to come up with a maintenance plan to make sure that we’re taking care of all the maintenance issues.”

“Sometimes property owners don’t hire the most experienced people and they’re overworked,” added Bies. “When you have a situation like that you’re going to run into these problems more and more.”

Northview recently came under fire from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who called on the territorial government to stop leasing from the company.

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Northview owns over 1,000 units in Yellowknife. Across Canada, Northview owns 27,000 residential suites in more than 60 towns and cities across eight provinces and two territories.

“Local landlords reinvest their rents into the community,” Johnson said in the Legislative Assembly. “They take more risk on local businesses, and they are key to a community’s identity. However, our capital city has a serious problem with local ownership.”

The NWT Housing Corporation declined to provide the total amount spent on maintenance on Yellowknife’s public housing units, or the number of work orders currently outstanding.

Northview did not respond to multiple requests for comment in time for publication.

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