With no other success to date in turning the federal government’s national $1-billion Rapid Housing Initiative into any new homes for the territory, the Nunavut Housing Corporation has stepped in with an application for $79 million.
“As a territory with a high Indigenous population and a great need to shore up vacancy rates and relieve overcrowding within our short building season, we are counting on the federal agency to provide us with funds that will make a significant difference,” Housing Minister Margaret Nakashuk announced on Monday, adding that a response is expected by April.
Launched by the Government of Canada last October through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) promised to help build or retrofit up to 3,000 new homes for Canadians. The $1 billion under the RHI is split into two revenue streams, with $500 million going towards the Major Cities Stream, while the other half falls under the Projects Stream.
Major cities that fall under the first stream include Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal among others. Many of them have approved RHI housing projects under development. Nunavut is not included in this list.
According to CMHC, the Projects Stream is where Nunavut communities should be applying.
“An application portal was opened to municipalities, provinces and territories, Indigenous governing bodies and organizations, and non-profit organizations. CMHC has completed the review of the applications,” wrote Angelina Ritacco, CMHC spokesperson, in an email to Nunavut News.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson has made a number of recommendations in a pre-budget submission to the federal government, including:
“That the Government of Canada ensure that funding guidelines and eligibility requirements take into account the unique situation of Nunavut in order to ensure full and equitable participation in national funding opportunities;
“That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding guidelines be improved to enable off-site improvements as an eligible expense to lower the cost of development.”
The senator adds that the exclusion of off-site improvements, such as infrastructure costs tied directly to the development of the project, was cited as a barrier to lowering the cost of developments.
“CMHC funding is not consistent in this respect as similar expenses, such as off-site levies, are eligible in southern developments,” Patterson wrote.
One of nine main task force members on Iqaluit’s Housing Task Force and co-chair on the sub-committee on Financing, Policies and Incentives, Patterson also outlined the need to make special accommodation for Nunavut in regards to the Rapid Housing Initiative.
“The sub-committee, for instance, heard that the financial viability requirements of CMHC’s Rapid Housing Initiative is a partnership at the governmental or organizational level that includes a contribution agreement. While most provinces, municipalities and territories have such standing agreements, Nunavut does not,” wrote Patterson in his pre-budget submission to the federal government.
Without these partnerships and policies in place “Nunavut projects were consequently excluded from accessing this national program.”
Housing task force looking for options
On June 1, 2020, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell announced a housing task force, with a goal to “identify (and) facilitate actions that will increase the range of housing options, supply and affordability in the City of Iqaluit.”
During an Iqaluit city council meeting on Jan. 26, Coun. Sheila Flaherty asked if the city had applied for the RHI.
Bell explained that there are no buildings in Iqaluit that would fall under this initiative. He noted that there is a vacant building near the airport, however, it has been vacant for more than 20 years and it would cost a vast amount of money to bring the building up-to-date.
Nevertheless, there have been some conversations with the Government of Nunavut to update the building, according to Bell.
Coun. Kyle Sheppard advised that there are other groups in Iqaluit who are also applying for the RHI.