Nunavummiut are enduring “inhumane conditions” and their health and safety is at risk by living in homes that are overcrowded, mouldy, water damaged, drafty and have poor ventilation, said Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who released a report Thursday on the troubling circumstances.
Qaqqaq is once again demanding that the federal government take greater action to tackle the territory’s housing problems following “decades of severe underfunding.” She adds that “ignorance and neglect from the current and previous governments has resulted in continued cycles of trauma, intergenerational trauma and abuse.”
She states that the Nunavut Housing Corporation is not at fault for the deficiencies due to a lack of financial resources.
“Everyone deserves a safe space to call home,” she stated. “This report attempts to highlight the ongoing housing needs in Nunavut and to amplify the voices of the Inuit and Nunavummiut whose pleas for safe and clean housing conditions have fallen on deaf ears for far too long. The damage caused by this neglect is beyond measure … Inuit and Nunavummiut lives are at stake.”
The 21-page report, titled Sick of Waiting, focuses on Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Taloyoak, Coral Harbour and Naujaat, following a housing tour that Qaqqaq undertook in 2020.
Her report contains observations and photos from the homes she visited as well as comments from the occupants of the residences. She chose not to include their identities out of respect for their privacy.
One Gjoa Haven woman living in a household of 12, told the MP: “My sewage overflowed and only sewage was removed, it wasn’t cleaned properly and mould grew and little flies appeared.”
In that community, more than 50 per cent of the 280 public housing units require repairs, according to the document.
In Taloyoak, 29 per cent of the population requires social housing and 112 residents are on a waiting list, she found.
In Kugaaruk, Qaqqaq said a hamlet councillor told her that she once removed baseboards in her home to attempt a thorough cleaning and she “found pockets of maggots from the flies that lay their eggs in the mould patches.”
Another Kugaaruk resident said, “[My] mom has been sleeping in the living room for 14 years. The top of the walls leak and drip into the living room and bedrooms. When mould is clearly present mom gets skin irritations all over her body.”
Yet another woman in that community, who lives with 11 others, told Qaqqaq: “I put my thermostat at 30 in the winter because it’s so cold. The windows fill with ice and snow.”
In Coral Harbour, 130 people in a community of 900 are on a waiting list for public housing, and 43 of them are currently homeless, according to Qaqqaq, who added that 2014-2015 was the last time a new home was built in the community.
“There is a lack of air circulation, my children and parents are constantly sick. We assume [there is] water damage under the tiles. In the washroom, you could step on the floor and see water come out,” a man in a 1960s-era Coral Harbour home said to Qaqqaq.
In Naujaat – population 1,100 – the waiting list for social housing also consists of 130 people. Statistics Canada categorizes 115 of Naujaat’s housing units as “unsuitable” and 60 of them need major remediation.
Qaqqaq noted that all 10 Naujaat homes she visited had visible mould and were overcrowded – one of them was a four-bedroom unit with 14 occupants.
A single mother told her, “The house is extremely unlevel.”
Another woman in a home with seven people stated, “Windows leak and there’s mould in the bedroom.”
Some Nunavummiut were self-conscious about allowing the MP to view their living conditions.
“I was often told ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I’m embarrassed,’ but I am grateful people opened their homes and hearts to me. I met Inuit who had done their best in cleaning up and keeping a safe space, all while continuously running into barriers,” said Qaqqaq. “I was devastated to see the conditions under which my constituents were living. What’s worse, I heard repeatedly that they had been living under these grossly unhealthy conditions for years. New generations were born into these mould-infested homes, and they were now in their teens or young adults. Many have only ever lived in these homes.
“The health and safety of Inuit is the responsibility of all those in positions of power and influence. I will keep pushing for the federal government to do the right thing. I will keep fighting for Inuit and Nunavummiut.”
Antoine Tremblay, press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Northern Affairs, said the Government of Canada takes this situation very seriously and will continue to work with the Government of Nunavut and all Nunavummiut to “provide the support that families need, based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership.”
“That’s why we are investing over $500 million to address housing needs across the territory. This includes $303 million that has helped build, repair or subsidize over 2,600 homes, and another $248 million to address the unique housing needs in Nunavut,” Tremblay stated. “Budget 2018 also invested $400 million in distinctions-based funding for Inuit-led housing in Inuit Nunangat. We will continue to work hard to ensure no one is left without a safe and affordable place to call home, and we will not stop until we achieve our commitment of ending chronic homelessness in the North and across Canada.”