Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 14, 2013 - 1:40 pm

New strategy tackles Nunavut’s housing nightmare

“Nunavut must find a way to unlock the potential of market housing”

SAMANTHA DAWSON
Nunavut will need up to 100 new social housing units like this one under construction in Cambridge Bay every year if it wants to meet future needs. (FILE PHOTO)
Nunavut will need up to 100 new social housing units like this one under construction in Cambridge Bay every year if it wants to meet future needs. (FILE PHOTO)

If the housing crisis in Nunavut isn’t addressed, the territory’s social, economic and health problems will worsen, as the demand for public housing increase and few tenants move out of public housing.

That’s according to the Government of Nunavut’s Igluliuqatigiilauqta “Let’s build a home together” framework for the Government of Nunavut’s long-term comprehensive housing and homelessness strategy.

Peter Taptuna, minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corp. — which subsidizes 80 per cent of all Nunavut housing — tabled the housing and homelessness framework and strategy in the legislative assembly May 13.

The two documents, along with an action plan expected by the end of the summer “will guide and drive the collective effort required to overcome the daunting and complex, but not insurmountable, challenges facing housing in Nunavut,” Taptuna said.

The strategy says the action plan will be realistic, improve “affordability” and increase investment in housing.

But, at the same time, reliance on two government-subsidized programs, public housing and GN staff housing, must be scaled back, it said.

The framework says there are “significant gaps in Nunavut’s housing system and associated social services and care facilities.”

“To fill them will require large investments, over many years,” the framework said.

“The needs of the most vulnerable… women and children, youth, elders and those living in poverty — are not being adequately addressed,” it said.
“Nunavut must find a way to unlock the potential of market housing,” the framework said.

However, the framework notes that most Nunavummiut have low literacy skills and could not get mortgages or construction loans even if they understood how to use those credit sources “and lack the savings they need to break their dependency on public housing.”

As well, large, young families are growing and placing additional strain on those who are able to earn an income, the 45-page framework says.
Those who work at Meadowbank gold mine in Baker Lake found that even with more money, they weren’t able to enter the market for private housing.

That’s because, even if they saved most of what they earned, they “lacked affordable alternatives to their public housing.”

According to the statistics cited in the framework and strategy, the GN lists the “dependency ratio” at 82 per cent, compared to the national figure of 59 per cent.

That shows that Nunavummiut who earn an income support more people than anywhere else in Canada.

If 57.5 per cent of Nunavummiut continue to live in public housing through to 2037, when federal funding is set to run out, the territory will have 5,000 more people in need of public housing, increasing the number of public housing tenants to 24,650.

That means of 90 to 100 new units a year would be needed just to keep up with population growth.

As of June 2010, Nunavut’s housing stock totalled 9,400 units including public housing, GN staff housing, private homes and private rental units.

Currently, the number of public housing units stands at 5,130.

The strategy suggests that economic growth can reduce the demand for public housing.

The strategy calls for investment in public housing — showing that each person living in public housing costs the government $16 a day, compared to $74 a day for a man in a shelter, $133 for a woman and family in a shelter, $306 a day for someone in jail, and $1720 a day for someone staying overnight in hospital.

And shelters become permanent homes for people.

Government employees who retire and cannot afford a home are forced to look for public housing but cannot apply while in staff housing — a situation that can make them homeless.

But improving territorial housing investment will take a major restructuring of the GN’s capital spending — right now, NHC’s expenditures represent 15. 6 per cent of the GN’s budget.

The strategy also suggests there is a lack of incentive and a lack of opportunity for people to buy or rent a home. 

To that end, it suggests adjusting homeownership programs to attract more people. In Nunavut, 22 per cent of housing is privately owned, compared to 68 per cent throughout Canada.

The strategy outlines four moves:

• increasing Nunavut’s housing stock;

• improving collaboration among housing stakeholders;

• identifying and addressing gaps in Nunavut’s housing continuum, such as purpose-built transitional and supportive housing;

• instilling self-reliance to reduce dependence on government, such as developing programs aimed at increasing self-reliance.

It also outlines specific goals and objectives, which are to:

• define housing demand by increasing public housing stock;

• establish a complete range of housing specific to Nunavut;

• increase investment in housing and explore alternative financing for housing;

• reduce the costs of housing and move to more efficient construction; and,

• remove barriers to housing supply with better capital planning and incentives to the private sector incentive.

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