EDITORIAL: Hard to maintain homes without mould training

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In Nunavut’s old and overcrowded public housing units, mould is a constant worry. The Department of Family Services says it is the number one obstacle to keeping homes in good shape.

We’re surprised, then, that Nunavut Arctic College is only now reviewing the housing maintainer program with the possibility of adding mould remediation to the curriculum. What took so long?

The housing situation in Nunavut is a constant crisis, with mould aggravating the lack of supply and overcrowding. And there’s not nearly enough money to fix any of these problems.

Often, the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) faces an uncomfortable dilemma: do you fix or replace? There are times when the cost works out to be nearly the same.

Building a home is an expensive venture in Nunavut. And it’s cheapest and easiest in Iqaluit, which isn’t saying much. The crisis is worsened by the fact that the capital can’t accommodate expansion with its aging infrastructure and lack of developed land. An ever-growing population continues to put added pressure on existing resources.

It’s harder still in the communities, but the Government of Nunavut finds economies of scale in building multiplexes rather than individual homes. The cost of shipping construction materials beyond the capital is a substantial cost driver.

Nunavut Housing Corp. president Terry Audla said in 2017 that federal funding of $240 million could build 48 units per year, so $500,000 per new unit. This year, the construction cost outside of Iqaluit is estimated this year to be closer to $700,000. A few years ago, when the construction cost was lower, we heard of old units facing more than $250,000 in repair costs. Despite this extreme cost, maintaining existing stock remains the best option.

Despite the perspective from southern observers that Nunavummiut should just move to southern Canada – like that’s the solution – Nunavummiut aren’t about to undertake a mass exodus. The focus remains on keeping homes as safe and comfortable as possible. When it comes to public housing, the standard is much lower than should be expected. Fixing the mould problem would improve the situation.

But the last thing Nunavut needs is people coming from out-of-territory to fix problems that can be fixed by trained Nunavummiut. NHC provides training to its own people for mould remediation, yet outside contractors are still needed to do the heavier lifting.

There’s little excuse for this fact.

If you look at any college outside of Nunavut, you’ll find generalist programs similar to the ones offered here. But you’ll also find advanced certificates for those seeking to add a specialty.

The mould situation is screaming for such specialized training here in Nunavut.

As the college reviews its curriculum, we encourage the consideration of such a program. The demand for graduates will continue to be high, with plenty of buildings with mould for students to practise their newly developed skills.

This is a problem we can solve. The health and lives of Nunavummiut depend on it.