A university student from Rankin Inlet is speaking out about the lack of homeownership opportunities for young Nunavummiut.
Augatnaaq Eccles, who’s hoping to go to teacher’s college after finishing her undergraduate degree next year, vented about the territory’s housing trials and tribulations in a July 16 Facebook post.
“As a young Inuk, I was told, like many others, to go for post-secondary education so I could get a good job and one day own my own home, which I did. I went to school with the goal of coming back to work and give back to the community I love so much,” she wrote. “The issue is once we come back, there is nowhere for us to live.”
In an interview with Kivalliq News, Eccles said the issue has been weighing on her mind for some time.
“I was tired of waiting for someone else to say something, so I thought I might as well say something and get the conversation going,” she said.
In her post, she makes it clear that she’s not looking for “handouts” or the option of paying rent for public housing she will never own. Rather, she wants to be able to invest her money in a property that has value.
She said her sister, who’s currently articling for legal aid in Rankin Inlet after attaining her law degree, is currently paying $1,900 for a tiny public housing unit.
“Imagine that could go towards a mortgage instead so you reap the benefits long-term, that would be amazing,” Eccles wrote in her post. “It would be great for those who are working and have the financial means to afford a down-payment and long-term costs that come with housing.”
Eccles said the problem is that because there are so few housing options, existing units rarely go up for sale and when they do, they are sold privately rather than going on the open market. The alternative of building a home up from the ground up is equally costly, according to Eccles.
“Young people currently cannot afford $400,000 to build their own two-bedroom home, or the $75,000 just for a lot to be built, and even if you could afford $500,000 for an old two-bedroom home, there are no homes to purchase on the market,” she wrote. “If those who are in a place to afford having their own homes built could have it done for a reasonable cost, it would also free up more housing units.”
Looking to the past for solutions
Augatnaaq Eccles also sent letters to MLA John Main and Margaret Nakashuk, minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, to express her dismay over a lack of housing.
Eccles said she reached out to them because she wants to see things change instead of just complaining. Eccles pointed to the Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP), which was an incentive by the NWT territorial government in the 1980s and ‘90s, as a potential model for encouraging new market homes to be built.
Under the program, new homeowners were physically involved in the building of their homes and they received the initial capital required to fund them.
In a July 26 letter responding to Eccles’ concerns, Nakashuk said that stricter building code regulations create “significant obstacles to the role program participants had historically played in building their future homes.”
She also wrote that Nunavummiut were no longer able to “contribute the same sweat equity” that was once required to build a home.
A 2018 review of homeownership tabled in the legislative family also noted that early programs like HAP did not undertake rigorous assessments of the potential homeowners’ financial ability to keep and maintain a home.
“As a result, many homeowners that acquired homes under these programs have impaired mortgages and many lack adequate resources to maintain their homes. Though some homeowners were ultimately successful, the legacy of these programs for many individuals and families was financial insecurity and more dependence on government,” reads an excerpt from the report.
Nakashuk added that while homeownership would alleviate the strain on the public housing system, it’s out the reach of 84 per cent of Nunavummiut.
“For 91 per cent of public housing tenants, the cost of purchasing and maintaining their own home is prohibitively expensive. We estimate that as few as 16 per cent of families would be able to afford homeownership,” Nakashuk wrote, adding, “That is not to say these obstacles cannot or should not be overcome.”
In response to Nakashuk’s letter, Eccles told Kivalliq News that even if a new HAP isn’t the answer, the government should find an innovative solution to the lack of market housing.
Nunavut risks losing educated professionals
Eccles has received an overwhelming amount of feedback from people across the territory since making her post, including a personal message from Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.
“She said she was excited about the initiative and asked if there is anything she could do to support this,” said Eccles.
Qaqqaq, who tabled a report on Nunavut’s housing crisis in the House of Commons earlier this year, did not return a request for comment prior to press deadline.
In her post Eccles, touched on some issues that Qaqqaq raised during her Nunavut housing tour, including the toll that the lack of housing takes on people.
“Having your own place contributes to mental health well-being as well — to have your own safe space to go to, and to have that independence. So many people are stuck in abusive homes because there is nowhere else to go, other than an already over-crowded home,” she wrote.
Eccles’ friend Amber Irwin said she ended up living in nine different places over the course of two years after her grandmother passed away because there weren’t any other housing options.
“There are so many financial and emotional burdens on each member of the household,” Irwin said. “We shouldn’t have to be fighting for roofs over our heads.”
Two years ago, the 20-year-old Rankin resident said she started working two jobs from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night in the hopes of being able to buy her own place. Even once she had saved up enough money for a down payment, trying to find a home to buy was difficult because there are so few options.
“There were no houses on the market and it was so discouraging to get to this point where I was financially and mentally prepared to buy a home and there was nothing,” she said.
Eventually the right house came up for sale. With the help of family and the Nunavut Down Payment Assistance Program, which contributed 7.5 per cent of the down payment, Irwin said she was able to finally get a mortgage.
“There were a lot of other people looking for homes as well, and even other people interested in that home. I just got lucky,” she said.
Eccles dreams of returning to Rankin Inlet to raise a family and work as a teacher. However, she said if she doesn’t have the opportunity to purchase a house with her partner, she might end up choosing to move south.
“I saw the difference it makes when you have a teacher that cares about your well-being. I want to be able to come back and give back to my community, but if I don’t have a place to stay I can’t do that,” she told Kivalliq News. “If I didn’t have the chance to own a home and have a stable place to start a family, I’d probably choose moving down south where it’s easier to own a home and have that permanence. Even though that’s not what I really want to do.”