Work is underway to establish a factory in Arviat that will build modular homes year-round and employ local people in the process.

“Our plan right now is to open it by 2025,” said Guillaume Guida, vice-president of Sakku Investments Corporation.

The Kivalliq Inuit development corporation, through Sakku Innovative Building Solutions, has already cleared 300,000 square feet of space in Arviat for its eventual 42,000-square-foot factory – the rest of the land being needed for all the units it will be building.

“The factory will produce housing units, but it can also do any type of unit,” said Guida, adding that once it’s up and running, Sakku anticipates the factory to produce 35 modular homes per year.

The main goal isn’t to tackle the housing crisis, necessarily, but to employ Inuit and develop their construction skills and certificates to build workforce capacity in the region.

It started with a request the Kivalliq Inuit Association’s board of directors made to Sakku in 2015. Since then, the Inuit development corporation partnered with RG Solutions in Quebec to build two prototype five-plexes, which both shipped to Arviat this summer.

The idea with the southern partnership was to use a similar factory to the one being erected in Arviat to build some pilot projects, like the five-plexes, and calculate the hours and material costs so Sakku could finalize its business case for the Arviat factory.

Guida said the cost to build the factory is about $30 million, but that number may be revised with inflation. It will employ 38 people, from managers and finance workers to construction and trades jobs. The goal is for it to not only build housing units, but build capacity in the Kivalliq construction industry.

“There are so few local people involved in the construction,” said Guida. “You have southern labour coming up, they come in, they build it and they leave. And there’s no training done, there’s no capacity being built.

“They just move, and it’s fair, but is there a way that we can improve the training side of it?”

Building credentials

Once the Arviat factory is operational, Guida envisions Kivalliq Inuit working there for a few years under mentorship to earn higher certifications, enabling them to move in if they want to and work other construction jobs in the region. It also allows Kivalliq Inuit who gain these skills to participate in a good employment opportunity close to home, year-round, in a heated, bright, modern facility.

“That’s the goal of the factory, I would say, even before building houses,” said Guida.

The two five-plexes built in the RG Solutions factory that were shipped to Arviat are using 90 per cent Inuit employment to put the finishing touches on them, according to Guida, adding that that’s the goal of this initiative. The five-plexes were originally going to be for Sakku’s staff housing, but the Hamlet of Arviat purchased them instead, bolstering Sakku’s business case for the viability of these units.

The reason Sakku started with the five-plexes was to prove the facility could build units that meet Nunavut Housing Corporation’s needs. The development corporation is also planning two more pilot projects in Rankin Inlet next year – including a two-storey house and a six-plex – as it creates a portfolio of work that the factory will be able to produce before it’s up and running.

“There’s nothing (else) to the scale of what we want to do,” said Guida about the uniqueness of this project in Nunavut.

Though housing is much-needed in the territory, the mission of this initiative is to increase the quality of life and opportunities for Kivalliq Inuit, not necessarily take on the entire housing crisis, Guida emphasized.

“We’re not saying, ‘Oh this is the miracle solution and we’re going to save or tackle the housing crisis,’” he explained. “We’re just thinking an initiative like this is another tool that could help with some of the barriers and some of the problems that exist, and we’re just adding to what the government and other private sector (companies) are doing.”

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