It may be easier to find affordable, adequate housing in Hay River than most places in the North, but that doesn’t mean teachers coming in from other places don’t face challenges.
“When I got the one-year teaching job at DJSS (Diamond Jenness Secondary School), the principal had suggested that I live in the high rise as it was very close to the school,” said Nashra Kamal. “I wasn’t given much choice. The high rise also offered furnished housing, so I thought that was perfect for me since I was only going to be in Hay River for a year.”
However, with payments on student loans and other expenses eating away at her pay cheque, Kamal said she could not justify the $1,100 per month a single unit at the high rise would cost and found an alternative arrangement with a fellow teacher.
A new Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association (NWTTA) report shows accommodations that are both reasonably priced and adequate in terms of amenities are not always easy to find in the NWT. Predictably, teachers in smaller communities face more significant obstacles when seeking appropriate housing.
Data from Hay River and the Hay River Reserve were combined with the rest of the South Slave – except Fort Smith – but, in general, revealed a demand for more affordably-priced rental units.
Kamal said, when she expressed her doubts about living alone, a staff member offered her a place to live at a price she could afford.
“One of the teachers was very happy to open up her home to me for the year,” Kamal said. “So I rented with her and I think she was very reasonable. Sharing a place with her was definitely more in my pricing range. I think housing pricing is steep for a single person trying to find a place on their own.”
According to Gayla Meredith, the president of the NWTTA, housing concerns aren’t limited to teachers.
“I believe there are people in every community that are affected by housing issues,” she told The Hub. “Some regions have taken the teachers’ issues on and dedicated special housing, and some haven’t.”
Of the 62 teachers employed in schools in Hay River and on the Hay River Reserve, only 12 completed the NWTTA survey, but Meredith cautioned against confusing a lack of response with the absence of problems.
“Hay River’s status as a regional hub does put pressure on housing,” she said. “When you have more economic activity, there can be a gap between what the market can offer and what is needed.”
The South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) helps its teachers find suitable accommodation, but can only go so far.
“The SSDEC does offer some assistance to new teachers in the form of information about the local housing market and contact information of sale and rental agencies,” said assistant superintendent Brent Kaulback. “This information is included in the mentorship and orientation packages which are sent out to all new teachers prior to their arrival.”
Kaulback said the SSDEC and GNWT also cover the cost of a hotel for a period of up to two weeks when a teacher moves to a new community to give them time to find a place to live.
The assistant superintendent maintained that the housing situation in Hay River is different from many other northern communities where it is of critical concern.
“There is an active rental market in Hay River, as well as a healthy housing market,” he said. “Teachers have a wide price range to consider.”
Kamal has completed her term in Hay River and will be teaching in Fort Smith as of September. Already she said she has noticed a difference in the housing markets in the two communities.
“I found that finding an apartment for one person (in Fort Smith) is very expensive, when all the utilities are included,” she said. “It was definitely more stressful finding a place there, but I had a few people from Hay River recommend people from Fort Smith, which was super helpful. I shall be renting with someone in Fort Smith as well because with student loans I simply cannot justify living on my own.”
— Sarah Ladik