The problem we keep coming back to, the one we cannot escape, is the near-crushing need for more housing in the territory.

It’s a problem that only grows as the population does.

As infrastructure ages, it will become even harder to build the much needed units and support them with water and sewer hook-ups, something already clear in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, where mayors have expressed frustration at their communities’ inability to grow.

In the Legislative Assembly March 7, Community and Government Services Minister David Joanasie said the department is working to upgrade Rankin Inlet’s water infrastructure, with a business case to be completed this month. He added that capital funding may not be in the 2022-’23 budget, but as planning nears completion, requests for capital funding will be made for the water treatment facility in Rankin Inlet.

That’s a long time to wait for answers when there are already buildings practically ready to inhabit that cannot be connected to the overtaxed utilidor system.

Even more troubling than the expected cost to upgrade systems that are decades old is the increasing cost just to construct new housing units – ringing in between approximately $900,000 and $1.1 million per unit, according to Lorne Kusugak, minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC).

With a housing shortfall of 3,545 units as of 2020, that gives this housing crisis a price tag of $3.5 billion dollars, give or take a few winning lottery tickets.

As the cost rises due to inflation, the number of units being built decreases, Kusugak explained, adding that the number of new builds for 2022-‘23 isn’t set in stone — those rising costs could see even fewer builds completed.

“It is a dire situation,” he said. “We need more money for housing.”

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes called on his fellow MLAs to find better ways to build.

“I know we have to make sure that we’re building units that are going to last and we have to use good materials and good construction methods, but as far as I’m concerned right now, I don’t give a hoot whether we win a design award or some fancy award,” he said. “I want to see energy-efficient units built as cheaply as possible so that we can house as many people every year as possible.”

Sounds good on paper, however the NHC has also complained about tenants ‘willfully’ damaging properties who then have to pay for repairs out of pocket. Some of that problem is exacerbated by overcrowding, pushing fixtures to end of life faster, so a balance has to be found preventing the GN or the housing corporation from having to constantly replace cheaply made high-touch parts.

It’s little wonder the tone of these discussions in the legislative assembly is terse, when the solution to so many of the problems is more money from Ottawa. Without that investment, it’s a circle down a drain.

Some point to Nunavut Tunngavik and the more than $1.7 billion in invested assets in the Nunavut Trust as a potential partner in housing Nunavummiut, but even that isn’t a sustainable choice.

The only solution to this problem is robust investment in Northern communities from the federal government. It’s time to get serious about Arctic sovereignty and providing for the people who were moved to permanent settlements in the name of staking a land claim.

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