Housing in Canada’s Nunavut territory: a federal election explainer

This housing complex is under construction in Iqaluit’s downtown core. Right now the territory is in need of at least 3,000 new homes, but the government says it doesn’t have the funds to keep up with demand. (Beth Brown/CBC)
Housing is high on the platform lists of all of Nunavut’s federal election candidates, but officials say they have yet to see a plan that will curb a territory-wide housing crisis.

Around 5,000 people are waiting for public housing, and half of Nunavut’s population live in overcrowded homes.

While the territorial government allots 13.5 per cent of its operational budget to the Nunavut Housing Corporation, Premier Joe Savikataaq said right now, his government isn’t able to build the 3,000 houses Nunavut needs.

“You have family violence issues, you have school attendance issues, you have mental health issues and all of that is due to this: too many people in one small house,” Savikataaq said.

“We know that at the current rate we’re building houses, we’re not even keeping up with demand.”

The only solution Savikataaq can see is for the federal government to begin “nation building” in Nunavut, through a large infusion of housing funds.

“We’ve said what our needs were. The federal government does know,” he said. “We have to work together as a common voice to go to the federal government and say, ‘look, you’re not meeting your obligations to provide housing for Nunavummiut.'”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, left, pictured with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in August, says he wants to see more funding for housing from the next government. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

In August, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau visited Iqaluit, the territorial capital, where he finalized a Canada-Nunavut Housing Agreement. That includes already committed funds, like the $240 million over 10 years earmarked in 2017 for housing in Nunavut under a National Housing Strategy. Those funds pay to build around 48 housing units each year.

Carbon tax no help to housing, opposition party says

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in July in Iqaluit he would continue that funding and tackle the housing crisis by making life more affordable in Nunavut.

Right now, it costs around $500,000 to build a public housing unit. Increased construction costs in the North only make Nunavut’s housing crisis worse, said Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq.

“We have limited funding to address the housing crisis in Nunavut. If we are elected, we will be scrapping the carbon tax that increases the cost of transporting goods,” she said, adding they will also remove GST from home heating to help Nunavut homeowners.

Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq, left, with party leader Andrew Scheer in June, says the carbon tax is increasing the cost of building houses in Nunavut. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

The Nunavut government promised $2 million this fiscal year for emergency shelters and transitional housing.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation said it can build 83 houses per year. Over the last 10 years the corporation spent $650 million on new homes and $100 million on renovations.

New democrats, Liberals promise affordable housing

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh is promising to build half a million affordable houses across Canada if he is elected.

“That gives me the opportunity to push for the much needed housing in Nunavut. And, to voice our realities in the House of Commons,” said Nunavut NDP candidate Mumilaaq Qaqqaq. “So many things are related to overcrowded housing and lack of housing.”

The current federal budget did not include new housing-specific funding for Nunavut, but Trudeau said his government will address “critical infrastructure” needs in Canada’s Indigenous communities.

Liberal candidate Megan Pizzo-Lyall said within the next 10 years, the party aims to see homelessness drop by 50 per cent. She also said the Liberals would dedicate funds to the “renewal and repair” of housing.

“We’re going to make it more affordable for those in the middle class to be able to buy their own homes,” she said.

Green Party candidate Douglas Roy said governments, not the private sector, should be building homes in Nunavut.

He thinks the federal government could use the money it has — differently.

“Governments have money. They spend it foolishly sometimes. We just need to redirect it.”

For Nunavut, Savikataaq said redirecting funds is hard when you don’t have them. Right now, the government of Nunavut has to choose between which basic needs to fund, like health care over housing.

Real stories, real results, Inuit leaders say
Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., says politicians needs to hear the real challenges faces by Inuit who are homeless. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

In April, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization, released an Inuit Nunangat Housing Strategy. President Natan Obed is calling for a housing backlog in Canada’s Inuit regions to end in the next two years.

“I know that the federal government has committed to eliminating tuberculosis by 2030, but that can’t happen if we continue to have overcrowded houses,” Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Nunavut’s territorial Inuit association, said.

Politicians need to see the housing crisis through real-life examples, she said. Like the family who pitched the tent they were living outside the Nunavut Legislative Assembly, and the mother who feared losing her children to social services because they were living in a laundry room.

“As difficult as they are to hear, it’s important that these stories are public,” Kotierk said.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn and Lucy Burke

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Climate kicks off Canada’s French-language leaders’ debate, but no mention of Inuit or Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: No buyers for homes in Finland’s remote areas, Yle News

Norway: Population declining in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Abandoned properties a challenge for rural Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Budget cuts threaten transitional housing program in Alaska’s largest city, Alaska Public Media

Beth Brown, CBC News

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