Editorial: Arrears an obstacle in Northern housing solutions

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Back owed rent to public housing in Nunavut is getting out of control and the Government of Nunavut will have to come up with some creative solutions to help Nunavummiut out of the hole.

As was illustrated in last week’s Nunavut News (“Hall Beach family can’t escape mould,” Nov. 11) families are often put between a rock and a hard place when it comes to having a roof over their heads.

With a growing family and a not always certain income, some have to decide between paying rent or putting food on the table.

It may make a lot more sense for breadwinners in one household to spend their precious income on a snow machine so they can get out onto the land and can catch some food rather than try to pay down endlessly accruing debt for public housing.

Don’t pay your rent in private accommodations and you’re bound to be out on the street before long but public housing managers will let the debt of their tenants climb to ridiculous levels that will never be paid off. Who in public housing has $50,000 to pay off their back-rent?

That the Nunavut Housing Corporation doesn’t regularly toss their clients out on the street shows that the agency understands the problem. Yet, families continue rack up huge debts and the housing corp. continues to hold it over their heads.

Raising the rent at the first opportunity when a tenant gets a better paying job only adds to the strain of a seemingly hopeless situation.

This is a vicious circle requiring a creative solution.

Housing corp. does encourage tenants to maintain their homes but how many people know how to frame a window or replace mouldy drywall? Contractors flown in to fix these problems cost the government big bucks and the list of repair and replacement needs just keeps getting longer.

Personal financing is a skill that is extremely difficult to master which could decades of mistakes before being learned. Basic financial literacy and personal accounting ought to be taught in schools across the territory to give Nunavummiut the working skills and know-how to avoid getting into arrears as they start to build families.

The same thinking could also be applied to basic home maintenance.

Recently Patterk Netser, housing minster, pointed out that Nunavut once had a program where building supplies could be purchased through the government at a lower price to allow residents to invest “sweat equity” and build their own homes.

Those renting from the government could work their way into a home which they could maintain and become independent of the government.

Gaining that independence is crucial and can be achieved in a way that makes sense but not always involving dollars and cents.

Leveraging the knowledge of the community and sweat equity ought to be that solution.