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NUNAVUT: 08/07 UHB: Crowded house

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  • George Lessard
    ... Subject: [ArcticNews] 08/07 UHB: Crowded house From: Jack Hicks Date: Thu, July 31, 2008 12:15 To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2008
      ---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
      Subject: [ArcticNews] 08/07 UHB: Crowded house
      From: "Jack Hicks" <jack@...>
      Date: Thu, July 31, 2008 12:15
      To: arcticnews@...

      Crowded house: Nunavut has a chronic housing shortage that’s a root cause
      of its many social problems. What’s worse, it’s affecting the economy –
      something the fledgling territory can ill afford.

      by Darren Campbell
      UpHere Business
      July 2008

      In many ways, Jesse Apsaktaun could serve as the poster child for the
      future of Nunavut. Born and raise in Kugaaruk, the 24-year-old Inuk is
      fluent in both English and Inuktitut. He’s a high-school graduate, no
      small feat in a territory where the dropout rate is notoriously high. He’s
      also a husband and a father. And he’s even got his career path laid out,
      as he’s in the third year of the Nunavut Teaching Education Program.

      But there’s also one way Apsaktaum serves as the poster child for the
      Nunavut of today. He, his wife Kelsey and their two-year-old son have been
      on the Kugaaruk public housing list for four years now, awaiting a new
      home. In the meantime, they live in Apsaktaun’s parents’ four-bedroom
      house, along with his three sisters and one of his brothers. That’s 10
      people living under one roof, and there used to be more. “For about a year
      there were 15 people living here,” Apsaktaun says. “It’s tough. There are
      too many bosses in this house. You can’t agree with each other all the

      That someone like Apsaktaun – young, educated, ambitious, and with a wife
      and child – is forced to live in cramped quarters with parents and
      siblings should seem abhorrent to most people living in our land of
      plenty. Unfortunately, Apsaktaun’s plight is all too common for Inuit in
      Nunavut, where a public housing crisis rages on to the detriment of many
      of its 29,000 people – and its economy.

      The housing statistics in Nunavut are grisly. According to Statistics
      Canada’s 2006 numbers, 18 per cent of all dwellings in the territory are
      overcrowded (defined by Statscan as more than person per room), while the
      national average is 1.5 per cent. As bad as that statistic is, the numbers
      are much worse for Inuit, who make up per cent of the territory’s
      population and comprise of 99 per cent of the tenants in Nunavut’s 4,000
      public housing units. Statscan’s 2001 Aboriginal People Survey found that
      54 per cent of Inuit here lived in overcrowded homes.

      Hold on though – there’s more bad news. Half of Nunavut’s 25 communities
      suffer overcrowding rates of 20 per cent or more, including Kugaaruk,
      where 43 per cent of the population lives in overcrowded housing (based on
      2001 figures) – the worst percentage in the territory. An Auditor
      General’s report released this summer on the Nunavut Housing Corporation
      found that more than 1,200 Nunavummiut were on the public housing waiting
      list in 2007. And the NHC, which manages all of the territory’s public
      housing units, states in its 10-year housing action plan that an
      investment of $1.9-billion and an additional 3,000 units are required to
      bring Nunavut’s overcrowding rates in line with the rest of Canada. The
      NHC currently has $200-million available to build an additional 725 units
      by 2010. But the problem is that, after 2010, the funding provided by the
      federal government runs out and there’s been no promises made by Ottawa to
      contribute more.

      Why so much public housing for such a small population? Well, Nunavut is a
      unique housing market. In fact, it’s really a non-market. Only 28 per cent
      of Nunavummiut are homeowners, and independent home ownership has always
      been inhibited here by the high cost of materials and labour and the
      expense of maintaining a home. Thus, Inuit rely heavily on subsidized
      public housing, and when Nunavut’s burgeoning young Inuit population
      starts looking for housing options outside their parents’ homes, sometimes
      the only choice is to add their names to the public housing waiting list.

      It’s a huge problem. But in a weird way it can also be seen as an
      opportunity. Construction activity, particularly the building of homes, is
      one of the main indicators of a healthy economy. Nunavut’s economy
      experienced record growth in 2007 at 13 per cent, but that was in large
      part thanks to spending from the mining industry, and that spending can
      dry up quickly. The 10-year plan that the NHC unveiled in 2004 with
      Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI owns and administers Inuit lands under the
      Nunavut Land Claims Agreement) calling for 3,000 new public housing units
      could be a huge engine for economic growth here. There would be tremendous
      opportunities including employment and apprenticeship and management

      The $200-million and 725 units being built right now is, hopefully, just
      the first step in alleviating Nunavut’s public housing ills. In 2006,
      through its Nunavut Housing Trust Delivery Strategy, the federal
      government provided Nunavut with funding to increase the numbers of
      available and affordable housing units in the territory. The NHC, a public
      agency established in 1999 to create, coordinate and administer housing
      programs in Nunavut, was tasked with delivering this strategy and getting
      all 725 units built by 2010.

      NHC president Peter Scott says materials for the first 96 units were
      delivered to Nunavut communities and construction on those units started
      in May 2007. The 725 new units will be a mixture of five-plex, four-plex
      and single-family units. Scott says the NHC has also used the housing
      trust as an opportunity to provide Inuit with needed jobs and have between
      35 and 40 apprentices meet their training requirements on these projects
      in order to become licensed trades people in the territory. Scott says the
      NHC so far has 27 new apprentices that are working on the units. The
      corporation also mandated that, during construction, 60 per cent of people
      on the payroll must be Inuit; a target Scott says has largely been met.
      “We’ve averaged 60 per cent or better in all communities except three.
      It’s been a real opportunity to use housing construction to provide jobs
      and develop a wage economy,” he says. “In some communities one five-plex
      being built brings, on average, close to $250,000 in wages in Inuit.
      That’s an extra quarter million into all these communities. You can
      imagine the impact those wages have in many of these places where
      employment is scarce.”

      There’s not a hint of disappointment or concern in Scott’s voice when he
      talks about the housing trust. But perhaps there should be. The program
      has been plagued by serious problems from the beginning. The original plan
      in 2006 was to build 800 public housing units. But that was quickly pared
      own to 725 after the Nunavut government realized that $200-million would
      not be enough to build 800 units. In the fall of 2007, the NHC announced
      that not all the materials needed to build approximately 178 new units
      made the last sealift of the year out of Montreal.

      And then there was Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s recent report on the
      NHC, which concluded, to name just a few misdeeds, that the organization
      does not adequately monitor that maintenance of public housing units and
      the overall condition of its housing portfolio. The report also says that
      Nunavut doesn’t adequately monitor the activities of its community
      partners that deliver public housing, and that in delivering the housing
      trust strategy the NHC did not plan for known risks, an oversight which
      led to construction delays in the first year. The report concludes this
      lack of planning could result in the NHC (which has accepted the report’s
      conclusions and recommendations) not meeting the objective of getting the
      725 units built by 2010.

      The report’s findings have outraged some Nunavut politicians, none more so
      than Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley, who called on the Nunavut
      government to fire the NHC’s entire senior management team. But so far,
      Scott and his colleagues have stayed put.

      One of the ‘known risks’ that has hampered the delivery of the new units
      is the lack of interest from Nunavut contractors in the work. According to
      the report, in six communities contractors either showed no interest in
      bidding on contracts, or the bids were higher than the NHC was willing to
      pay and the contracts weren’t awarded. Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson
      says the former happened in the community he represents. “We’ve got five
      contractors in Cambridge Bay and they all chose not to participate,” he

      Peterson says from what the contractors have told him, the lack of
      interest had to do with the number of conditions the NHC required in its
      contracts to build the units. One of the sticking points in Cambridge Bay
      was the NHC’s insistence construction shut down in January, February and
      March and restart in April or May. “The developers said they couldn’t do
      that and that they had other responsibilities,” Peterson says, “so in
      Cambridge Bay it appears that the building of the units is falling

      The Auditor General’s report seems to bear out Peterson’s observation. The
      first 96 units were supposed to be built by last summer. As of December
      2007 only 20 had been completed. The report says of the remaining 76, work
      was 48 per cent complete in the Kitimeot region where Cambridge Bay is
      located, 66 per cent complete in the Kivalliq region and 81 per cent in
      the Baffin region, although Scott says now these units are “90 per cent
      complete or better.”

      Scott admits the disinterest shown by Nunavut contractors for these
      contracts was a setback for the NHC. But he also takes a
      glass-is-hall-full outlook on the situation. Scott says skilled
      tradespeople and project managers from southern Canada were brought in to
      build the first round of units. At the same time, the NHC’s partners – the
      community housing organizations – have managed the construction projects
      in 12 communities instead of contractors. “It has its pros and cons but
      we’ve added management skills, and the housing organizations are learning
      the construction and contract-management sides of it,” Scott says.

      While the NHC struggles to meet its targets on building new public housing
      and maintaining its existing units, the social toll the housing shortage
      is exacting on the territory continues. Studies abound linking inadequate
      housing to health problems like tuberculosis and hepatitis A, and to
      increased risk of mental health problems and family violence.

      There’s an economic toll born from the housing shortage as well. Healthy
      people are happy people and happy people are generally productive people –
      at play, at school and at work. Dr. Frank Tester, an associate professor
      for the University of British Columbia’s school of social work, has done
      extensive work on housing in Nunavut. He says the housing shortage is a
      big factor preventing Nunavummiut from reaching their potential.

      “Housing, like food and clothing, is a basic need. When you don’t have it,
      bad things happen, and that’s what’s going on in Nunavut,” Tester says.
      “Without a good night’s sleep, you’re not going to perform well on the job
      and without a good night’s sleep you’re not going to do very well at
      school, either.”

      So what will solve the problem? As is often the case in the North, all
      roads lead to the federal government.

      While responsibility for housing rests with the NHC, its budget ultimately
      comes from the annual transfer of funds from the federal government to
      Nunavut. Any new funding for housing to build the remaining 2,300 public
      housing units – as well as over 1,000 existing units Scott says need to be
      replaced or retrofitted – must come from the federal government.

      However, if any new funding is on the way, Prime Minister Stephen Harper
      and his Conservative government are hiding their intentions. And what
      worries people like Scott and Tester is that there are signs that Harper,
      despite hit ‘use it or lose it’ stand on asserting Northern Sovereignty,
      is preoccupied with more pressing matters these days: Ontario’s sputtering
      economy, Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan and the Maxime Bernier
      affair. Tester also points out that Harper’s predecessor, Paul Martin,
      initially committed to providing $400-million to Nunavut for the housing
      trust strategy. But when Harper came to power, the Conservatives cut the
      amount to $200-million. They’re washing their hands of this whole thing,”
      Tester says of the Conservatives “More money is the only option to solving
      this. But this government is lacking in ingenuity and initiative.”

      As the elected officials and housing personnel sort out the mess that is
      Nunavut’s public housing, Nunavummiut like Jesse Apsaktaun continue to
      live in cramped quarters. The last time he checked, he was 13th on the
      waiting list for a public housing unit in Kugaaruk. He’s grown so tired of
      it all that he talks about building a new house when he graduates from the
      teaching program and lands his first teaching job. But that’s an expensive
      proposition in Nunavut and Apsaktaun knows it, which is why he still holds
      out hope of obtaining public housing and getting his family out of his
      parents’ house. “Sure, I’ve been frustrated. Sometimes I deal with it well
      and sometimes I don’t. But you just go on. You wait it out.”
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