Nunavik housing bureau hopes evictions shock tenants into paying rent
"It’s heartbreaking, but what can we do?"
KUUJJUAQ — If you aren’t paying rent on your social housing unit in Nunavik, you should think twice about what lies ahead: you and your family could face eviction.
This past summer, the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau evicted 14 social housing tenants from Kuujjuaq, Inukjuak, Kangirsuk, Puvirnituq, Quaqtaq and Salluit.
Three of these evictions took place in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik’s largest and wealthiest community — and this first round of evictions in the town shocked many residents, who saw boxes stuffed with possessions, mattresses, appliances, toys and, in one instance, crutches, lined up by the side of the road.
But the evictions also prompted at least one tenant to come into the KMHB to promise in the future that he would pay his rent.
Some Kuujjuammiut, who are on a long list of residents waiting for social housing units, said they didn’t like to see people evicted but were happy to move further up the housing list.
People who are evicted can’t move back to social housing until five years after they have paid their arrears.
Soon, the housing bureau plans to send official letters, in French, English and Inuttitut, to tenants in their 2,500 units asking them to pay their rent and their accumulated arrears.
These letters are the first step in evicting tenants.
If you owe more than $3,000 and didn’t pay more than 18 per cent of your rent over the past year, you can expect to receive a letter.
And if you owe more than $10,000 and didn’t pay 110 per cent of your rent over the past year, you will also receive a letter.
More than 850 tenants fell into these two categories in 2011.
After numerous letters had been sent out, urging the tenants to pay up, only 49 remained on the list of letters that said they would be evicted — only 14 of them didn’t make a deal that would have seen them remain in their homes.
After learning the KMHB planned to proceed with evictions, a man in Kuujjuaq came into the office to pay $25,000.
All the tenants who were evicted knew well ahead of time that they would be evicted if they didn’t pay up.
“We have made every arrangement for the benefit of the tenant. Even the day that the bailiff went around delivering the notices, you still have a chance [to pay],” said KMHB chairperson Michael Cameron. “Just before the bailiff stepped on the stairs, the tenant had a chance because one of our employees was following with all the different documents [so they could pay].”
Some 35 tenants took that opportunity before the bailiff made it up the stairs and handed them the eviction notice.
In the other cases, two movers packed the household’s possessions and put them out on the side of the street while a locksmith changed the locks.
“It’s heartbreaking, but what can we do? Make arrangements with us, so you and your family get to stay,” Cameron said.
In an attempt to make rent easier for cash-poor households to pay, the KMHB has moved some tenants to smaller units, with lower rents, with the hope that if they pay less they would make payments.
But some people still didn’t pay.
That’s left the KMHB with $1.2 million in arrears from 2011 and more than $15 million in arrears accumulated since 2000.
While some critics of the evictions have said “it’s not the Inuit way” to cast someone out of a house, Cameron said the rules for social housing apply to “every resident of Quebec, whether they’re Inuit or non-Inuit.”
The KMHB is more flexible than social housing offices in the South, Cameron said.
The KMHB gives tenants more time to pay, only carries through evictions during the summer and doesn’t prevent evictees from moving into social housing units with other family members.
This ends up overcrowding other units, but since there’s no private housing rental market in Nunavik, there’s no choice but to let them move into other social housing units.
To avoid evictions in 2012, the KMHB plans to hire a collections officer who will meet personally with tenants who aren’t paying their rent.
Cameron also encourages other tenants whose circumstances have changed to come in to speak with them before they stop paying rent.
“We hope that every tenant of ours can come to our offices and talk to us, not afraid, to feel safe and comfortable to talk to us,” Cameron said.