EDITORIAL: Solving housing crisis requires outsized courage

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Last month, the housing crisis hit the breaking point for at least one family. After four years of couch-surfing while they await social housing, Brian Tagalik, Pitsiulaaq Ashoona and their two young daughters pitched a tent at the Nunavut legislative assembly in protest.

They said they would stay until their homelessness was ended.

Their goal is to raise awareness of invisible homelessness, a type of homelessness all too common in Nunavut, where those without a place to call their own, people crash with a friend or family member until they outstay their welcome and have to move on to the next one.

Nunavut Housing Corporation president Terry Audla tells us Nunavut is now short 3,500 homes. The estimate is 10,000 Nunavummiut without a home to call their own.

Assuming most of those are Inuit – they are – almost one third of the Inuit population in Nunavut is awaiting a home they can call their own.

We’ve heard too many times stories of housing units packed well beyond capacity. A dozen to a home is nothing new.

Tagalik and Ashoona hope they will find housing soon.

We see little reason to be optimistic.

Last year, Iqaluit alone had 250 families on its public housing wait list.

The GN has the resources to build 100 units in Nunavut per year. If the population were to stay static, the government could build 3,500 houses in 35 years. But the territory adds about 500 residents each year. There’s simply no way the GN can keep up with the demand.

It would take well over $1 billion to build enough homes to fulfill the need, and we suspect even if that amount of money were made available, the project would be doomed from the start. There simply wouldn’t be enough builders available to do the job, not enough land, and municipal infrastructure would not be able to keep up with the growth.

And that $1 billion would only start the ball rolling. The need for repairs on existing housing is enough that the figure would probably bring the cost closer to $2 billion.

We’re just spitballing on that one, but it’s probably not too far off. And if municipal infrastructure was considered part of a funding package, the total cost would definitely rise above that threshold.

All things considered, social housing requires an investment of epic proportions.

And yet, housing is the most significant contributor to health in a territory with health crises that tarnish Canada’s status as a ‘first-world’ country.

Nunavut’s struggles with tuberculosis, addictions, and suicide are all tied to the housing crisis, as all of these problems can be tied to the crush of people living in quarters so tight, they don’t have room to take a breath, physically or mentally.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Fixing Nunavut’s housing crisis – and the others by association – will take a federal government with outsized courage and commitment to the North.

Without hitting a major natural resources jackpot, we just don’t see it happening.

That’s because it seems the only people with outsized courage are those willing to brave the Arctic winter in a tent to bring attention to the problem. If only we were all so brave.