This blog post is part of our series which highlights sessions of the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Hear Julia Christensen and Lisa Freeman speak on Monday, November 5th at 10 AM. Learn more about this upcoming conference presented by CAEH. 

The barriers to affordable housing in the Canadian North are well-documented, and the unique housing challenges in northern urban centres like Yellowknife, Northwest Territories have been the focus of significant recent research (see Christensen and Falvo for some examples). The construction of new housing in Yellowknife is challenging due to lack of materials, availability of skilled construction workers and high transportation costs. The housing market is also under significant strain with high rents and one main private landlord for rental accommodation. However, there are several government initiatives, housing advocates, and non-profit organizations that work hard to provide temporary and permanent accommodation for those in need. Yellowknife, a city just shy of 20,000 people (and an increasing homeless population) has two homeless shelters, a small number of supportive and/or transitional housing programs (including Housing First), and public housing provided by the territorial government. These accommodations are nevertheless in short supply and under increasing demand, and are often accompanied by rules and restrictions that can be prohibitive for some potential tenants.

For low-income tenants and street-involved individuals, there is another infrastructural barrier: a private and public housing monopoly. Yellowknife has one primary property management company that provides the majority of rental accommodations in the city, creating what has previously been described as a monopoly in the city’s private rental housing market and has been previously defined as being a private monopoly for rental stock. They provide a range of apartments and townhouses, all market value and often difficult to afford for those on social assistance. On the other hand, the NWT Housing Corporation, a ministry within the Government of the Northwest Territories, has a form of public monopoly on housing, as they provide all of the public housing in the territory in addition to an array of housing programs and support. If you are a low-income renter and/or living on social assistance, these are your two main options for housing. Christensen previously documented the specific challenges that one encounters when unable to access housing through either of these two main providers. This very limited housing spectrum presents serious obstacles to supportive and transitional housing programs. 

In our presentation at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Hamilton this year, we explore how this private and public housing monopoly impacts the landscape for housing advocates, service providers, key decision-makers and, ultimately, tenants. Specifically, we look at how this monopoly creates significant limitations for the success of supportive and transitional housing models such as Housing First when they are implemented in northern contexts. In other words, where can one transition to? We suggest that such models need to be re-conceptualized and adapted to northern contexts to reflect constraints on the northern housing spectrum. 

We will draw on qualitative research we conducted in Yellowknife (November – May 2018) on housing and homelessness within the context of a non-renewable resource development economy as part of the Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic (ReSDA) project and in partnership with Alternatives North. We conducted semi-structured interviews with housing providers, housing advocates, and government officials in Yellowknife; interviews that provided us with important insight on the affordable housing landscape for marginalized tenants in Yellowknife, the multi-jurisdictional approaches taken by multiple governments in addressing poverty, housing, and homelessness, and challenges that housing providers and advocates face in trying to secure any type of temporary or permanent housing for low-income individuals.