Bill Enge stands beside three residential plots in downtown Yellowknife.
It’s a location he and his team had selected to address housing needs of elders who are members of the North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA).
Close to a pharmacy and grocery store, he hoped to build a 12-unit living complex for seniors with the help of the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative funding.
As president of the NSMA, Enge represents roughly 300 members, many of whom live in the capitol.
“The cost of living in Yellowknife is one of the highest in Canada. Many of our elders are retiring out of the workforce,” he said.
“Many of them don’t own their own homes, they are renters but now without an income they can’t afford to rent, the market rent.”
In mid-November, Indigenous leaders in the NWT received word from Housing Corporation in the Northwest Territories about a new $1 billion housing fund for nation-wide projects.
The NSMA submitted its proposal on time to the feds but were rejected because the territorial government was already sitting on a $60 million housing fund.
But according to the territorial government, the NSMA’s seniors housing project also didn’t qualify for support from its housing fund either.
Bob Mercredi, an NSMA member and Yellowknife native says he’s seen the cost of living skyrocket.
“For a one bedroom here, $1,700… that’s a mortgage payment,” Mercredi said.
He’s been renting a bedroom in a shared home for the last nine years, but told APTN News he’d jump at the chance to move into an apartment had the NSMA seniors housing complex been built.
“The housing was something new that was brought up in the last board (NSMA) meeting and we discussed it. We were behind him (Enge). We figured this looks really, really good,” he said.
Mercredi said he feels as though federal and territorial entities have not viewed NSMA as having rights to housing supports.
“If there’s funding for the bands here in town, they will receive funding through the federal government and then we will get a phone call from someone saying ‘you can get help but you have to go through this native organization,’” Mercredi said.
“Why should we go through them when we are an organization ourselves.”
The recent federal budget pledges $25 million in 2021-2022 to the N.W.T. for housing, but whether NSMA will benefit is another story.
“We have never received one cent for housing from either the government of Canada or the government of the N.W.T. through the N.W.T. housing corporation and we have members in need of affordable housing, just the same as any other aboriginal people across Canada,” said Enge.
The North Slave Métis Alliance has secured judicial recognition of its section 35 rights under the Constitution as Métis.
Despite this, Enge told APTN that with no direct seat at the table for the Akaitcho land claim negotiations, funding opportunities do not flow to his membership.
APTN reached out by phone and email to Indigenous Services Canada and territory’s Indigenous Affairs department and asked what financial supports NSMA are entitled to, but did not receive comment.
Meanwhile, the NWT Housing Minister Paulie Chinna says no housing proposals from the rapid housing initiative were rejected indefinitely and the GNWT is exploring other means of funding, including the NSMA’s project.
“I could have my department reach out and ask what is it that they (NSMA) want to accomplish. What housing issue they want to address and we could work with them that way as well,” Chinna said.
The minister noted the territorial housing corp. had recently hired a community liaison worker who works between the NWT and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. She said it supports clients in submitting project proposals.
“The application process was quite complicated what I noticed was that it would take two-to-three years to see an application go right through to the end stages so I wanted to support those applications coming forward,” she said.
For Enge, he said he plans to meet with Chinna and Yellowknife MLAs to voice his frustrations with the way his members are being treated,
“The idea is build an affordable housing unit that breaks even. NSMA is not looking to make a buck, we are just trying to addressing housing needs of elders in a crisis situation,” Enge said.