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Lengthy housing wait sparks anger in Gjoa Haven

Fourteen years.

Fourteen years.

That’s how long Jacob Uyarrai says he’s been waiting for a house for his family in Gjoa Haven.

He’s spent the past eight years living with his mother-in-law and there can be 13 people crammed into her three-bedroom unit.

“I am a bit angry for waiting so long,” Uyarrai said. “Sad for my kids (who) have to sleep on the floor with no beds, only like parkas.”

The Nunavut Housing Corporation plans to build 105 public housing units over the next year, but none of those will be in Gjoa Haven, which has a population of close to 1,325.

MLA Tony Akoak said he’s thankful for the housing allocations over the past few years when Gjoa Haven has received 15 new units in each of 2019 and 2020 and 20 in 2017.

“But we’re still short of housing,” he said. “It is a very common complaint. We have people that are homeless in the community that are always looking for a place to stay.

“There’s a lot of people living in overcrowded housing. I’m grateful for the people who take in and try to help their family or community members, but they do become an overcrowded unit.”

That overcrowding has impacts on residents’ health, he said, adding that a shelter is needed in the community sooner than later.

“It’s very, very slow at the moment,” he said of the Department of Family Services’ follow through on a commitment to build a family crisis shelter in Gjoa Haven. “Their excuse is the pandemic.”

Mayor Megan Porter also expressed gratitude to the Government of Nunavut for the new homes built in her community over the past five years.

“Like all communities, Gjoa Haven has a housing shortage. While we are always advocating for public and government housing, we encourage residents to work with housing to make sure their applications are consistently updated and points revised,” Porter said. “We encourage residents to get educated so they can find gainful employment and hopefully one day become home-owners of their own. We continue to advocate through our MLA.”

Uyarrai said there’s “not much for jobs” available in the community. He usually gets hired as a carpenter in the spring, often to build new houses.

Akoak said the limited employment opportunities compound the problem.

“There’s no jobs in the community, especially up this way in the Kitikmeot area. All we have is government jobs, which are not very much,” he said, acknowledging that seasonal tourism work has largely been eliminated by the fallout from COVID-19.

Micheal Dawodu, housing manager at Gjoa Haven’s Kikitak Housing Association, referred questions about the wait list and criteria for being granted occupancy of a home to the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC).

Uyarrai is among 142 applicants on the waitlist in Gjoa Haven, according to the NHC. In Gjoa Haven, the longest anyone has been waiting for a public housing unit has been since 2003.

Among the factors considered when reviewing waitlist applicants are how long they’ve been waiting, how many people will occupy the home, their means to afford housing in the private market or to own their own home, whether they’re currently homeless and if they’re in urgent need due to being the victim of spousal assault.

“We know this may seem unfair to people who have waited years for public housing. Our highest priority has to be ensuring our most vulnerable applicants are assigned housing,” the NHC stated. “To the people waiting on the list, we would like to acknowledge their burden. We know the housing crisis is an ongoing and heavy burden, meaning few choices, overcrowding and struggle, as the demand for housing exceeds what is available. We want to make sure everyone has a home. This takes time. It can’t be accomplished by one, or even a few, government departments or organizations. Progress feels slow and we understand the frustration felt by many. We will need to muster all of our resources and ingenuity to eliminate housing insecurity in Nunavut.”

The housing corporation “allocates its construction budget on the basis of need. Communities that have a larger waitlist to housing stock ratio are prioritized over those that have smaller waitlists and larger housing stocks. For this reason, we ask that everyone in need of housing apply for it as soon as they are eligible. This allows us to have the clearest possible picture of the need in each community,” reads a statement from the NHC, adding that anyone in arrears to their local housing organization is encouraged to work out a payment plan to ensure that historic debt does not interfere with an application for another home.

Akoak said he believes the local housing committee’s housing application assessment process is fair.

“The problem we’re facing all over Nunavut is a shortage of housing,” he said.

In the legislative assembly on March 16, Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak reiterated that Nunavut requires 3,000 new housing units to catch up to existing demand, and the Government of Nunavut is not on pace to do that.

“The various Inuit organizations and the Government of Nunavut have to work as a private-public-federal partnership to alleviate our challenges,” said Angnakak. “I am hopeful if any leaders of the Inuit bodies are listening, it is time to speak up. You also represent Inuit, and the housing shortage in Nunavut requires hands-on work to be resolved amongst all three parties.”

The Nunavut Housing Corporation’s overall budget for 2021-22 is $219.1 million. Housing Minister Margaret Nakashuk noted on March 7 that the corporation is undertaking independent reviews of the public housing rent scale and the construction allocation methodology. She said she looks forward to sharing the outcome of those reviews before the end of the current government’s term, which is in October.

Fact file

Waitlists by community

Naujaat: 140

Iqaluit: 434

Pond Inlet: 186

Sanirajak: 101

Kugaaruk: 112

Rankin Inlet: 207

Taloyoak: 107

Whale Cove: 41

Gjoa Haven: 128

Arviat: 255

Coral Harbour: 75

Cape Dorset: 117

Cambridge Bay: 143

Arctic Bay: 67

Iglulik: 138

Kugluktuk: 111

Resolute Bay: 16

Sanikiluaq: 62

Qikiqtarjuaq: 49

Pangnirtung: 94

Baker Lake: 129

Kimmirut: 38

Clyde River: 46

Chesterfield Inlet: 18

Grise Fiord: 2