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'Many flaws' in GN's housing policies, MLA says

Adam Arreak LightstoneNunavut election 2017
“I continue to address the issue in the hopes that cabinet will address the systemic flaws which will require a government-wide approach,” says Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone. photo courtesy of Adam Arreak Lightstone

The Government of Nunavut's staff housing policy suffers from “systemic” issues that disadvantage lower-paid Inuit staff, said Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone.

“My analysis has identified that the Government of Nunavut’s housing programs have many

flaws,” he said on March 4, the day he tabled his own report on the issue after asking numerous detailed questions of the government over the past couple of years.

He said the $1,500 monthly staff housing subsidy is only available to 1,600 government workers, who represent less than half of the GN workforce. As well, 70 per cent of staff housing units are allocated to the territorial government's highest-paid workers, such as senior managers and executives.

Inuit, who represent half of the GN's employees, are only one quarter of staff housing occupants, Arreak Lightstone pointed out.

“I continue to address the issue in the hopes that cabinet will address the systemic flaws which will require a government-wide approach. I do have high hopes that the situation can and will be corrected,” he said.

He also critiqued the Nunavut Housing Corporation for changing the way it reports income levels of public housing tenants. He referred to past annual reports that showed tenants earning more than $100,000 per year grew to 350 in 2019 from 277 in 2017. But he couldn't determine the equivalent figure for 2020 due to an alteration in methodology.

Housing Minister Margaret Nakashuk replied, “If we look at the number of people that are tenants in public units, 4,911 and over are in threshold of $27,000 income to $80,000 to $100,000. The numbers that he is requesting is very minimal when we look at the number of tenants in these public housing.

“What the member is failing to understand is a lot of these tenants are in smaller communities and we lack housing. I don’t think we should be asking people 'You have to move out because you have a high income.' We can’t do that, especially in the communities that don’t have housing,” said Nakashuk.

Arreak Lightstone said his intent is not to encourage anyone to leave public housing, but he wants to continue to monitor the ratios under the previous reporting method. Nakashuk said she could provide that detail.

He also asked the minister to create an income chart for staff housing tenants.

“I just find it odd that the housing corporation provides annual income of one group of public housing tenants and not the income of the staff housing tenants,” he said.

Nakashuk responded, “We know that many of the tenants pay a lot of money to rent and not all of the houses are in very good condition. I like it when people try to get jobs even though it is going to raise their rent, so I thank them. People who pay rent to the government, that can be looked at. I don’t know whether we will be presenting (the data) here or not. I cannot commit to that right now.”

Terry Audla, president of the Nunavut Housing Corporation, explained that the corporation obtains information from local housing organizations on whose name appears on leases for public housing units and helps assess tenants' income through the Canada Revenue Agency.

“We don't have that authority with staff,” said Audla, who added that staff housing rents are based on the size of the units and the monthly amount owing is deducted from the GN's employee's pay.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation is currently undertaking a review of its public housing rent scale.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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