MLAs in Canada’s Nunavut territory delay approving housing corp’s draft budget

Nunavut’s Minister Responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation Patterk Netser says the territorial housing organization has solid methods for allocating public housing builds each year. MLAs questioned its housing wait list data in the legislature this week. (Beth Brown/CBC)
In the legislature Monday, MLAs chose to delay approval of the Nunavut government’s proposed 2020-2021 capital estimates for its housing corporation.

The government of the eastern Arctic territory is proposing a draft budget of over $43 million for the Nunavut Housing Corporation in the coming fiscal year. Of that, $17.5 million is slotted to build 35 new public housing units.

But that budget is now deferred until later in the sitting, by a motion from Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main. He cited year-to-year discrepancies in the numbers of people on annual wait lists for community housing. Those community specific lists are used by the corporation to decide where to build homes.

“There were questions around the accuracy of those numbers,” Main told the CBC. “In some communities the numbers on public housing waiting lists … we see them go way down in one year, and then we see them come way up in the next year.”

Main used the term “whipsaw” to describe the fluctuation.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main led a motion to defer approval of the Nunavut Housing Corporation’s capital estimates. That’s until the regular members caucus has more information about public housing wait lists used to allocate housing construction in Nunavut communities. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

In Igloolik he said the final wait list used for housing allocation is half as long as it was the year before.

“My colleagues and I are hoping to gain a better understanding of why we see these patterns and of how the housing corporation is dealing with this,” Main said.

The motion to delay was passed through a tie, broken by the chairperson of the committee of the whole, Pat Angnakak. It came at the close of a three-day review by the regular members’ caucus of the proposed housing corporation budget with the Minister responsible Patterk Netser and his officials.

The draft budget deals with staff housing, home ownership programs, repairs and retrofits. Main said he expects to see the budget eventually approved.

‘They are going to be forgotten’ MLA says

Right now, there are 282 public housing units in different stages of construction throughout the territory.

The housing corporation explained that Igloolik’s housing wait list dropped by 50 per cent because new housing units were built in the community. The housing corporation had promised to build almost 100 units in Nunavut this current fiscal year. Of those, 20 were planned for Igloolik.

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa says Igloolik public housing wait lists are changing by as much as 50 per cent each year. (Beth Brown/CBC)

“I went to the local housing organization and the waiting list has increased. I don’t think I can approve this budget with these numbers,” Aggu MLA Paul Quassa said.

“They are going to be forgotten,” he said of his constituents in Igloolik who might not reapply for housing or who don’t check to make sure they’re on the list before the end of the fiscal year.

Housing corp holds to its allocation method

Minister Netser stood by the challenged data.

During debate on the motion on Tuesday, he said the Nunavut Housing Corporation is doing all it can to address the territory’s “severe” housing crisis. In a minister’s statement Wednesday, he commended the organization’s board of directors.

“We are not using inaccurate documents … We allocate funds based on the statistics we get from the communities and from the local housing organizations,” he said. “The communities who have the highest numbers of people on the waiting list are given priority.”

The housing corporation vets those wait lists sent by community housing offices. It’s the responsibility of residents to make sure they remain on the annually submitted lists, he said.

“When there’s a jump or a spike in the number, it’s based on the fact that people are actually now filling out these applications,” said Terry Audla, president of the housing corporation.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA Main said that application is seven pages long in his community.

“The more I learn about this, the more problems I can see with relying on that waiting list data,” he said. Main and Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk said some people in their communities have been on a housing wait list for eight to 10 years.

Nunavummiut deserve transparency from the corporation, and the confidence that housing wait lists are accurate, said Hudson Bay MLA Allan Rumbolt.

In his opening remarks for review of the Nunavut Housing Corporation capital estimates, Rumbolt said MLAs also want more clarity on how the corporation manages funds for replacement and repairs after home fires, how staff housing builds are allocated, if housing corporation contractors are employing and training residents, and timely updates on how mould is being cleaned up in community public housing units.

Related stories from around the North:

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

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

Beth Brown, CBC News

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