Nunavut social housing allocation rankles MLAs
With election looming, MLAs challenge allocation of $100 million housing fund
How to spend $100 million on 210 new social housing units: that’s what spurred hot debate in Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole Sept. 9 and Sept. 10.
Many MLAs questioned the allocation process announced last May, which will construct new federally funded housing units in 11 of 25 Nunavut communities.
But Peter Taptuna, Nunavut’s housing minister, stuck to his guns throughout the committee meetings. His message: the way housing is divvied up is the “most transparent and fairest way based on need, not on political need, not on other wants.”
Currently, the wait-list for social housing shows the following needs:
• Iqaluit — 30 units;
• Repulse Bay — 20 units;
• Arviat — 30 units;
• Clyde River — 20 units;
• Coral Harbour — 10 units;
• Kugluktuk — 20 units;
• Baker Lake — 30 units;
• Rankin Inlet — 20 units;
• Whale Cove — five units;
• Taloyoak — 10 units;
• Cambridge Bay — 10 units; and,
• Igloolik — five units.
To show how the new housing would be allocated, Nunavut Housing Corp. president Alain Barriault, who sat next to Taptuna during the committee hearings, gave an example of how the new system allocates units.
“At the time we looked at Whale Cove, it had 21 applicants on their waiting list but only had 77 houses in their community. Meanwhile, Sanikiluaq had 20 people on the waiting list but 177 houses in their community,” Barriault said.
“Even though both communities have the same number of people on their wait-list, one community already has twice as many houses as the other and, therefore, has a larger ability to be able to house the people on the waiting list,” he said.
This “comparative method” shows that the two communities have “vastly different overall needs,” Barriault said.
Taptuna said if the allocation went directly to all those on a waiting list, only two communities would be able to get housing.
That’s because Nunavut needs 3,500 new units to fill the demand for housing, the committee heard — or about $1.5 billion worth of new housing.
“We intend to stick with this methodology of allocating units. If we ever come up with more funding from the federal government, we hope to use this methodology,” Taptuna said.
But Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott questioned the use of the waiting list in general.
“What’s going to stop people and housing associations from padding the wait list?” asked Elliott, adding that some housing associations could put more people than necessary on a waiting list to give a certain community an advantage when housing is allocated.
“With the new rent scale software that’s going to be initiated throughout all the communities in Nunavut, that will verify and validate accurate numbers that the housing corporation can use,” Taptuna responded.
Elliott then went on to ask why some people are cooped up with over 20 people in one household.
Sept. 6 in the legislative assembly, Akulliq MLA John Ningark also told a story about one house in Repulse Bay that has 21 to 24 people living in it at one time.
“If there is a point system that’s consistent across the board and if allocation is done across the board the same way and wait-lists are the same, why does his community have one home with 21 people in there?” Elliott said.
That’s because the allocation system in the past hasn’t worked well, said Taptuna.
Tununiq MLA Joe Enook also asked Taptuna several times over two days why Pond Inlet didn’t get allocated any new housing, and told his personal story of struggles with housing.
“When I first became a member of the legislative assembly, I did not have a house, and I had to live in a shed,” Enook said.
“It was not very good on my part when I had to live without a house. If you don’t have a house, then it’s really uncomfortable and it hurts your feelings.
“I would like to find out the various reasons why the people of Pond Inlet did not get any houses built,” Enook said.
Taptuna responded by saying Pond Inlet is ranked 18th on the list, and that Pond Inlet “weren’t allocated any units because there were communities that were in greater need.”
Taptuna said the exact mathematical formula to allocate the housing will be tabled in the assembly later.