This past week, Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, announced $9.9 million in funding from the Rapid Housing Initiative that will go toward creating 24 low-income housing units in Iqaluit, Gjoa Haven and Kugluktuk.
Hussen also highlighted an $8 million investment towards the Uquutaq men’s transitional shelter in Iqaluit, which houses 60 people.
“I am hopeful this is the start of additional funds to address the housing crisis in our territory,” said Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik, following the Aug. 3 announcement.
There’s little choice but to remain hopeful because, let’s face it, 24 homes is barely a drop in the bucket.
There are 142 people on the wait list for housing in Gjoa Haven alone. Getting that number down to 132, with a planned staff-housing build in Gjoa Haven being switched to public housing is a welcome start, but the GN must be feeling anxiety about such glaring need.
Having a permanent roof over one’s head shouldn’t feel like winning a lottery, and young, educated Nunavummiut aren’t looking for handouts.
In Rankin Inlet, resident Augatnaaq Eccles said the problem persists 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.
Building a home from the ground up is out of reach for most, clocking in at close to $500,000 to construct a two-bedroom residence.
Eccles also makes a fair point, adding, “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.”
Margaret Nakashuk, minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, stated that while homeownership would alleviate the strain on the public housing system, it’s unattainable for many.
“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.
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated has repeatedly lobbied the federal government, asking for $500 million in funding to begin addressing the housing crisis in the territory. The land claims organization expressed disappointment at the paltry sum earmarked for Nunavut housing in the most recent budget – a $25-million “down payment,” as Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal referred to it.
In 2018, the most recently reported financial statements, there was more than $1.7 billion in invested assets in the Nunavut Trust. Beneficiaries received $94 million and there was no debt in outstanding capital loans.
According to the Trust’s website, its mandate is to invest the capital transfers to protect them from the effects of inflation and to provide income to its beneficiaries.
A better use of that vast sum of money might be to pilot a lease-to-own housing program, where NTI fronts the needed funds to build homes in each Nunavut community on a repayable basis. A robust application process would save them the foibles of the failed Homeowners Assistance Program, which didn’t account for maintenance and taxation costs.
Even if only 16 per cent of Nunavummiut could afford to be part of such a program, that would represent many more people moving out of public housing and into a future of their own control.