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Inuit won’t see much of $40B plan

When speaking of housing in Nunavut, a commonly heard comment is that the federal government guaranteed Inuit housing if they moved into communities.

Looking at the state of Nunavut's housing, particularly social housing, the failure to fulfil this "guarantee" is a national shame.

This week's announcement of a $40 billion National Housing Strategy is important but will be a more positive announcement for those needing shelter down south.

The strategy was simultaneously announced in Vancouver and Toronto, where we have heard enough stories to know that each city has both a homelessness problem and a home affordability problem. Efforts to reduce foreign ownership – a contributing factor to the affordability problem – seem to have helped cool real estate prices somewhat but both cities remain unaffordable for too many people trying to live there.

Vancouver media outlets report that advocates are hopeful that the National Housing Strategy – the first of its kind and a long time coming – will help, when the money starts to flow. Cynically, as ever, the funding is spread out over the next 10 years, despite the fact Justin Trudeau's Liberals face an election in less than two years. One critical part of the funding, $4 billion to provide $2,500 annually to low-income renters, will not start flowing until 2020, after the election.

It's hard to determine how much cash will flow North. Any way you look at it, it won't be enough.

As has been the case for far too long, Nunavut's capacity to build new housing is struggling to keep up with the pace of population growth in Nunavut.

Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) has the capacity to build between 100 and 200 units per year. Senator Dennis Patterson told us Nunavut needs in excess of 3,000 units right now, and NHC president Terry Audla tells us 38 per cent of public housing units are overcrowded. But Nunavut's population growth means that for every person housed by a new unit, a new person is born to create more need. It's hard to see how the supply will ever catch up to the demand.

The average cost to build a unit in Nunavut is $400,000 to $550,000, meaning it would take between $1.2B to $1.6B to build 3,000 units today. And this cost will continue to rise as it will take a very long time to come close to that mark.

A further setback is the Herculean cost of maintaining existing units. We are aware of one case where repairing a single unit in one of the hamlets was $250,000, and NHC had to decide whether to abandon or repair it. This is the state of affairs.

And don't forget that the territorial government spends $100 million per year just on utilities for social housing.

How can federal promises keep pace? They can't, of course.

All we can hope is for some sign that this strategy will provide the Nunavut Housing Corporation the resources to tip the balance of supply over demand so that some day, hopefully not too far away, all Nunavummiut have the same access to homes as other Canadians do.