Ottawa’s housing efforts fall short

600

Three thousand, five hundred homes.

That’s the number of residences that the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) estimates need to be built to meet demand among Nunavummiut.

NHC is putting up approximately 100 new units per year.

That pace isn’t suitable despite federal government pledges of $76.7 million over two years for Nunavut housing, made in 2016, and an additional $240 million over a decade, announced in 2017.

The cost of constructing all the needed new homes is pegged at more than $1 billion and the cost to repair deficiencies in existing public housing units would push that figure toward $2 billion.

It’s a daunting prospect.

But even more objectionable is the idea of continuing to tackle this overwhelming crisis at the existing rate, which is grossly insufficient.

It has been reiterated many times by many experts over the years that the impacts of the housing crunch are far-reaching and devastating. More than 56 per cent of Nunavummiut live in overcrowded homes, some of them severely overcrowded with multiple families sharing small residences. This affects their health, allowing germs to spread readily. It’s been cited as a source of the scourge of tuberculosis that has plagued our territory for several decades.

Mould in poorly-designed and poorly-maintained houses can trigger allergies and exacerbate asthma.

Persistent health issues and a lack of privacy in overcrowded homes can harm mental health, as does a lack of sleep, which is more common when numerous people occupy a small residence. A lack of sleep has consequence in classrooms and in workplaces, meaning education and productivity suffer.

Allowing the housing crisis to endure means all of these adverse ramifications remain and they also carry a steep cost.

A federal election is less than three months away. Nunavut’s Member of Parliament, whoever that may be, must continue to hammer away at the next government in Ottawa, making the housing issue as high profile as possible.

When independent MLA Hunter Tootoo asked the existing government in November for a greater commitment to Nunavut’s housing in the 2019 budget, the minister of Families, Children and Social Development referred to the $240 million commitment made in 2017. That’s an average of $24 million per year. It’s not enough.

Some innovative steps may be able to shave costs such as tiny houses, which will soon be a pilot project in Cambridge Bay and have been the source of discussion between the GN and mining company Agnico Eagle in the Kivalliq. Tiny houses are not a solution for families, but for singles and couples, they make sense.

Desperate for funding help, Nunavut Housing Minister Patterk Netser made a plea in June for Inuit land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated to help pay for new
housing. This $1.8 billion Nunavut Trust is meant for future generationsof Inuit but the territory is facing a housing crisis now affecting future generations. The organization should
think long and hard about that.

That said, the federal government must remain on the hook for public housing in Nunavut as it is in Nunavik, where it made commitments in the northern-Quebec land claim. October’s federal election needs to reinforce that accountability.