On March 23, 2016, the Nunavut Housing Corporation appeared in front of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal People to explain the housing challenges of the territory.
A report titled ‘Nunavut is Facing a Severe Housing Crisis’ highlighted the following statistics:
-“52 per cent of Nunavummiut live in social housing”
-“38 per cent of social housing tenants live in overcrowded conditions”
-“80 per cent of social housing tenants make less than $23,000/year”
-“39 per cent of Nunavummiut live in core housing need”
Even with Nunavut’s efforts to lift itself out of the crisis by investing more than $500 million in the decade preceding 2016, the housing situation was left unchanged, according to the report.
Six years later, the housing situation is still similar.
“We currently need more than 3,200 units to meet the demand of those on the community public housing wait lists” says Josh Long, spokesperson for Nunavut Housing Corporation.
The wait list is based on a points system. Points are allotted to each individual depending on their needs for housing. Kendra King, assistant manager at Nunavut Housing Corporation explains: “You get so many points if you’re actively homeless, if you have a disability, if you’re an Elder, etc. The point system was made so that if you’re an Elder with a disability and you have to take care of your grandchildren then you don’t have to wait as long as, let’s say, a single man just trying to get out of his parent’s house.”
Even with new developments, the corporation has difficulties reducing the wait lists.
“We just finished four new housing projects that really brought the waiting list down but it still is increasing as time passes,” King said.
Nunastar Properties Inc. chief operating officer Ben Cox says the company’s wait list will likely get longer in the future as well.
Owning 350 residential units in Iqaluit comes with a rapidly increasing costs for the rental housing business.
“Annual increases in the costs of owning and operating residential real estate in Iqaluit have been multiples of rental rate increases for several years. Construction and renovation costs have also increased somewhere in the order of 30 per cent to 40 per cent in the last few years,” Cox said.
“In Iqaluit, the lack of infrastructure, extremely high construction costs and deteriorated economics for investment are likely the greatest impediments to increasing rental housing supply.”
Former Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq details the seriousness of the situation.
“I’ve met elderly women who have openly told me that they live with their abuser and are forced to and have lived with them for years,” she said. “I have met parents whose children have been taken to the foster care system because their home is deemed ‘unfit’ and they have nowhere else to go and no other options. I met parents whose child has just found another sibling hanging from the ceiling and in that point in time do not know what to do in that moment and thrashed the house.”
She explains that Nunavut’s living conditions were allowed to degrade to this extent because of decades of underfunding from Ottawa.
“If the federal government was really invested in the lives of Northerners, in the lives of Inuit, we wouldn’t be having this conversation… What we have seen over the last 50-60-70 years in the North is that lack of respect for adequate basic needs,” she said. “What we do need to see is the federal government to put money where their mouth is. Invest. Sharing the wealth is sharing the health.”
Building a local workforce
Members of the business community have come forward to try and fix the problem. An Iglulik-based company — Arctic Fresh — has created a new division to focus on filling local housing needs.
Arctic Fresh started as an e-commerce operation, but quickly noticed the lack of affordable residency options in the community.
“There’s a lack of housing, but also rental and office space. The life conditions in communities are a lot harder than Iqaluit, it’s two separate worlds really,” said Arctic Fresh representative Michael Doyle. “Arctic Fresh has purchased three buildings and already renovated two.”
Doyle added that the company isn’t stopping there.
“Arctic Fresh is completely people-oriented. They also help with small community projects — they just fixed up a daycare over there (in Iglulik).”
Although initial investments have been made in CEO Rhoda Angutimarik’s hometown of Iglulik, the business aspires to help Nunavut as a whole. To do so, Doyle explains building the local workforce is the best way to go.
“That’s just a start, the goal is to build five new affordable housing units annually in the upcoming years. The company hired 16 construction workers. Three of them are renowned skilled workers and the goal is to help the rest gain skills as well, especially young labourers and entrepreneurs,” said Doyle. “Companies in the North often outsource the workforce, which can be very costly, but part of the long-term solution is local skilled workers.”