July 24, 2023

In Conversation with Experts: Housing in the North

blue sky and clouds over Yellowknife, Canada

Emilie Lesage

Housing Program

3 Housing Supply Challenge Support Program advisors on what’s making an impact on Northern and Indigenous housing.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone with an innovative  housing idea could turn their concept into reality? For many communities and businesses, getting funding is a never-ending process of complexity and red tape. The capacity and experience required to navigate all that means numerous functional solutions never see the light of day.  

CMHC’s Housing Supply Challenge aims to change that. Through the Housing Supply Challenge Support Program, led by Evergreen, applicants to the Northern Access Round arepaired with advisors  to offer guidance, mentorship and resources to develop their solutions while maximizing the chance to contribute to the affordable and accessible housing in Northern and Indigenous communities. 

We talked to three Housing Supply Challenge these advisors to  shed light on their work, their biggest challenges, and what they see for the future of housing in the North. 

Rachel Cardiff: Practical solutions will win out 

Rachel is a consultant who specializes in Northern development. She has  worked with First Nations communities in the Yukon for over twenty-five years and has witnessed tremendous change in that time, especially as more land claims are settled and communities get greater agency to direct and manage their own projects.  

“I’ve seen major improvements,” she says. “When I first started doing this work, it was very difficult to get funding, even for improvements or renovations. Twenty-five years ago, nobody really knew what the state of housing in the Yukon was. They probably knew it was bad, but not how bad. These days, we have a much better idea of the complexity and the need, and that’s driving a lot of change.”  

“One of those changes is a more cooperative relationship between First Nations and government agencies when tackling large projects, and a greater sense of confidence and trust. But things still have a long way to go,” Rachel says, “and the problems are even bigger now. Building codes are getting stricter. The housing that does exist degrades further every year. And there are more and more people who need affordable places to live.” 

As a  Support Program advisor, Rachel is helping applicants navigate that complex landscape. “I come at things from a very practical perspective,” she says. “Lots of time goes into the theoretical, the studies, and the planning. But I’m there to help them figure out how to actually make it work, building homes, opening doors and handing over keys.”  

When asked what she thinks would make the biggest impact on housing in the Yukon, Rachel is quick to answer, “using trade unions to provide free training to build a skilled labour force locally.” 

“Training allows First Nations to participate in the construction of projects themselves, and that will have double the impact,” she says. “If we bring in a bunch of modular homes built in southern Canada, that will help the housing problem, sure,but it won’t solve the employment problem – or meet the need for maintenance of those homes. We tried this with the Carpenters Union with great success, building three houses with four journeymen carpenters. Each one had four trainees who then went on to train others.That’s the kind of project that will lead to the most success and should be investigated more fully.”  

Dwight Beardy: Just keep innovating 

Dwight is the president and co-founder of Mighty River Enterprise, a business school student, and a member of the Support Program’s Advisory Commitee. He has spent his career supporting healthy living and community in Northern Manitoba, and finding ways to boost local economies by establishing sustainable self-sufficiency.  

The issues he addresses are some of the same ones Challenge applicants are trying to solve: overcrowding, population growth and innovative uses for technology. “Housing in the North faces issues other parts of Canada don’t have to deal with,” he says. “Mighty River is focused on innovative products and services like home ownership programs, eco-homes, fire-retardant and anti-molding materials.”  

He’s excited to see Challenge applicants come up with new ideas and approaches, and is particularly keen on the fact that many of the proposed solutions give Indigenous businesses a chance to get involved in the global economy and overcome geographical remoteness.  

Dwight’s goal is to keep moving forward, and in his role as an advisor he’s helping others do just that. “The Support Program is a great feature that’s really about helping applicants succeed,” he says. “Because it’s not a competition: it’s about working together.”  

Jordan Harker: The cost-benefit of modular is massive 

Jordan’s background is in building housing in the North. He started out in house construction, moved into real estate development, and today he specializes in architectural technology. For him, the biggest barrier to adequate housing isn’t the actual building of homes. It’s getting through all the red tape. 

“There’s a lot of money wasted on pilot projects and consulting and reports that go nowhere,” he says. “There’s so much needless process and complexity, and it rubs me the wrong way because that money should be going towards something tangible – like houses people can live in right now.”  

Practical solutions are what’s needed, he says. Like multifamily residences that can be built and operated more efficiently than single-family homes. Modular structures which can be built elsewhere and installed quickly. Even homes built out of sea containers.  

“Modular homes made out of containers are really affordable, especially since plumbing is included,” he says. “Plumbing installation costs in the North are astronomical: they’re 200% or 250% more than you’d pay anywhere else. Going with something like a sea container that’s already got plumbing and is assembled down south offers  massive savings. You couldn’t build it up here for anything close to the same price.”  

Jordan says supporting the local labour market is important, but that the focus should be on fostering the skills needed for maintaining homes, not necessarily building them, at least right now. Getting the homes up here at the right price and the right quality is what’s more important, he says. The resources should be spent on getting local labour familiar with those units and how to take care of them so they don’t have to call in outside people.  


All three advisors have various opinions and distinct approaches to Northern and remote housing challenges.. However they have one thing in common: a passion for supporting groups who can bring about the change Northern communities seek.  

Housing Supply Challenge Support Program 

The Housing Supply Challenge, delivered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), encourages residents, interested individuals and groups, and experts from across Canada to propose innovative solutions that help break down the barriers that limit new housing supply. The Housing Supply Challenge Support Program, led by Evergreen, supports applicants of the Housing Supply Challenge by providing guidance, mentorship and the resources needed to develop and improve their submission. Find out more about it here 

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