No matter how you slice it, Nunavut is in the midst of a housing crisis and it has been since before the formation of the territory proper.
The major difference between now and the two decades that have passed is visibility.
On May 13, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rose in the House of Commons to discuss the ongoing housing crisis in the territory, a topic she has broached multiple times.
“Addressing the chronic housing crisis in Nunavut is a matter of public health, Indigenous rights and basic human dignity,” Qaqqaq said.
She’s right. There’s no getting around the fact that Nunavut has the highest rate of overcrowded housing in Canada and six times the national rate of housing in need of major repairs.
Nunavut Conservative Association president Paul Murphy was less than impressed with the MP’s housing tour last summer, saying the money spent to highlight overcrowded homes in disrepair was not a worthwhile investment because it’s already an undeniable problem.
“We all know that. Everybody who lives here knows the issue. We don’t need our MP to be running around spending money to write a report that said what we already know,” Murphy said.
However, it’s less of a visible problem to people outside the territory, where, unfortunately, a large portion of governance and funding decisions are still being made. Speaking out, and continuing to speak out, is important if we want to see the “real change” our political leaders keep promising.
We have heard many stories from many communities that share the same heartbreaking information, like Jacob Uyarrai in Gjoa Haven. He has waited 14 years for a house to live in with his five children and has spent the past eight years living in a home with 13 other people.
He’s one of 142 applicants on the waiting list in a community of 1,325 people.
While Mayor Megan Porter’s statement encouraging residents to “get educated so they can find gainful employment and hopefully one day become homeowners” is well-meaning, it glosses past the obvious difficulties in finding jobs that are very sparse.
The $25 million earmarked in the 2021 federal budget was called a down-payment, to help the Government of Nunavut “try to attract money from the national housing policy, or team up with one of the Inuit-rights holders to perhaps access some of the Indigenous-based infrastructure funding that does include housing,” said Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal.
Another well-intentioned move, but woefully inadequate.
In the legislative assembly on March 16, Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak reiterated that Nunavut requires 3,000 new housing units to catch up to existing demand, and the Government of Nunavut is not on pace to do that.
“The various Inuit organizations and the Government of Nunavut have to work as a private-public-federal partnership to alleviate our challenges,” said Angnakak. “I am hopeful if any leaders of the Inuit bodies are listening, it is time to speak up. You also represent Inuit, and the housing shortage in Nunavut requires hands-on work to be resolved amongst all three parties.”
If might makes right, we will indeed need unity and unyielding tenacity from all levels of government to get the housing investment that this territory so desperately needs.