Cash-strapped Nunavut Housing Corp. looks to cost-saving measures
"We’re feeling the crunch"
The Nunavut Housing Trust money is winding down.
That was the reminder from Alain Barriault, president of the Nunavut Housing Corp., to MLAs during a committee of the whole meeting March 15.
“Everything should be completed this spring,” Barriault said
The Nunavut Housing Trust was set up with $200 million included in the Conservative government’s May 2006 budget, a funding commitment that was originally part of the 2005 Kelowna accord. The Affordable Housing Program from the 2009 budget added $100 million.
While there’s no immediate money is store for new social housing, there is a strategy on housing called Igluliuqatigiilauqta in the works, Barriault said.
That strategy will follow with an action plan that “will be interdepartmental and involves collaboration” with public and private partners, he said.
Only a few units of 1,011 new social housing units built with the federal money need to be completed.
These units include two single-family houses in Arviat, a duplex in Grise Fiord as well as a five-plex, a duplex and a single family dwelling in Gjoa Haven, he said.
During his appearance in the committee of the whole, Barriault also fended off complaints that older social housing units need repairs.
Some people who live in social housing units built and maintained by Nunavut Housing Corp. have said they’re worried about mold in their homes.
To that, Barriault said a new “Occupational Health and Safety Manual” for the housing corporation has been developed in conjunction with the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission.
“Part of the processes we’re looking at within that is safe work procedures for our local housing organizations for getting rid of mold,” Barriault said.
The Arviat Housing Association has two or three certified workers in mold remediation, he said.
But Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott wanted Barriault to explain how the corporation decides a house is not livable anymore.
“As long as its economical to keep repairing a home, we will keep doing so rather than paying the much higher cost of replacing it at this point,” Barriault said.
There is a stock of houses that are aging and every year, the costs to repair them are going up, Elliott said.
At the same time, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is cutting back on its assistance with maintaining the houses and keeping them livable, he noted.
The money that the CMHC provides Nunavut each year is scheduled to continuously decline from its current level of $21.9 million until the money completely dries up in 2037.
“It is true that our funding from [CMHC] for aging stock is decreasing year by year,” Barriault said.
But all jurisdictions in Canada face a similar issue, he said.
“In their cases, housing might make up five per cent of their overall housing stock, not 50 per cent as is our case, [so] we’re feeling the crunch a bit more than many of our counterparts,” Barriault said.
As for finding new money for the cash-strapped housing corporation, Elliott asked about the plan to sell off old shipping containers.
The housing corporation talked last year about raising up to $3 million by selling about 1,000 used shipping containers, known as sea cans, for $3,000 a piece.
“We will be rolling this out…as we free up the containers by emptying the material and disposing of it whether for our own use or to the dump or for sale,” Barriault said.
The housing corporation is also trying to raise money by collecting more rent and lowering arrears.
During the fiscal year 2012, arrears amounted to $20.9 million, Barriault said.
“With changes to the rent scale and only assessing primary tenants, we are hoping that will improve the collectability of the rents,” he said adding there’s also a new collection policy planned.
The housing corporation needs $165.8 million for its 2013-14 operations, according to the main estimates submitted.
And that won’t be enough said, Peter Taptuna, the minister responsible for the housing corporation, in his March 15 introduction to the corporation’s budget request.
“The need for additional public and affordable housing continues to place a burden on the finances of the government and we must seek alternative solutions and sources of funding,” he said.