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Fed up with public housing

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Liard (Nov 24/06) - Lucy Lomen lives in a house where you can see a shaft of daylight between both outside doors and their frames and you can feel cold air coming in all the windows.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Lucy Lomen points to the space between her door and the frame in her public housing home where cold air seeps in. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Those are just two of the items on the list of deficiencies that Lomen can rattle off about the house she is buying from the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation through the home ownership program.

Lomen is just one of the residents of Fort Liard who's tired of the way the NWT Housing Corporation has been handling housing in the community.

At one point, approximately two years ago, Lomen's doors and windows were fine, but then a contractor with the corporation changed them.

"He made it worse instead of better," she said.

The original problem was the fact the house leaks in the spring and when it rains. Lomen blames mould caused by the leaking for the asthma and headaches that she and some of her family members living in the house suffer from.

Although she's complained to the corporation, Lomen said it doesn't seem to do any good.

"It's just like talking to a wall," she said.

There are plans underway to improve the housing situation in Fort Liard.

Housing has been a long-running problem in the community, admits Premier Joe Handley, the new minister responsible for the Housing Corporation.

Handley said he visited Fort Liard in March 2006 and after returning a few months ago, he was amazed to hear the same complaints.

To help address the issue, he's supporting the creation of a local housing board.

The seven-member board will be composed of the chief, the mayor, one councillor from both the band and the hamlet and three elected positions. The board is expected to be operational by spring 2007.

The board will have authority over the public housing units and the home ownership program. They will also decide where new housing units are placed and who they will be given to.

"I really want to put the responsibility back on the community," said Handley.

Local decisions should be made by local people, he said.

The board will also be able to decide which contractors are hired. The board members will know who will get the work done, said Handley.

Having contractors complete projects has been a problem. There are 15 to 20 unfinished projects in the community, Handley said.

"We're going to crack down on contractors and work with homeowners to get them completed," said Handley.

Theresa Berreault is one of the local residents who feels her Housing Corporation home was never finished properly.

The house, which was built in 1996, has always been cold, said Berreault.

She can point to a number of causes including pipes coming into the house from the outside that aren't insulated and a bootroom that doesn't have its own air vent. Berreault said she is forced to leave the door to the room open, which makes the rest of the house colder, because otherwise the whole room fills with frost.

"It's worse than living in a tent. A tent is warmer," she said.

Being cold isn't the only problem. In the kitchen where there should be three sets of cabinet lights, there are only wires sticking out of the wall.

A flick of a switch turns them into live wires. Berreault is constantly afraid someone will get hurt.

"It's kind of scary for the kids," she said.

Bringing the problems to the attention of the Housing Corporation doesn't seem to help.

"I don't know how many times I've told them," she said.

Berreault is also aware of the problem people have finding new houses.

Her granddaughter is currently living with her while she waits for a house. In total, seven people live in Berreault's small four-bedroom home.

Ongoing struggle

Some residents aren't sold on the idea of the board.

Jack Yeadon has been told about the plan, but so far he says it's just talk.

While sitting at his kitchen table in Fort Liard, there is a strong note of frustration in Yeadon's voice when he talks about the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

"The Housing Corporation are playing games pretending they're building houses," Yeadon said.

Yeadon said he's seen houses started in January that still aren't finished by October.

Many renovation jobs also aren't finished on time or properly, he said.

Yeadon himself has been living in NWT Housing Corporation properties since 2002.

"In my dealings with them they've been less than honest and deceptive," said Yeadon.

According to Mayor Mike Drake, having a local board will make decisions more transparent for community members.

There's been a disconnect between the community and housing because there's no representative between here and Fort Simpson, said Drake.

"It will go a long ways towards solving the problems," he said.

The community is finally fed up after having four or five meetings in a row with housing officials and never seeing the problem fixed, said Drake.

"It's time for the community to take a lead role in it," he said.

The joint board between the hamlet and the band also fits in with the current plan in the community to combine efforts, said Drake.

He is willing to admit, however, that a lot of work needs to be done to set up the board and deal with housing. "It's not going to happen overnight," said Drake.