Public housing utilities costs a major burden on GN: NHC minister

"Those costs are increasing year by year"

By SARAH ROGERS


The cost of operating and maintaining individual public housing units in Nunavut has now risen to over $26,000 a year, an “ongoing battle” for the Nunavut Housing Corp., said its minister George Hickes in the legislative assembly earlier this week. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

While the Nunavut Housing Corp. scrambles to keep up with public housing needs across the territory, the agency said it also needs more annual funding to maintain and operate existing units.

The cost of operating and maintaining individual public housing units in Nunavut has now swelled to an average cost per unit of $26,000 a year, George Hickes, Iqaluit MLA and minister responsible for the housing corporation, said March 7 in the legislative assembly.

“It’s an ongoing battle that we have with the amount of units that we have,” Hickes said this week during a committee of the whole budget review.

“Over 70 per cent of which were built prior to 1999 with ever-increasing maintenance costs, the utility costs make up the bulk of that $26,000 per year as water, sewer, heating fuel, and electricity. Those costs are increasing year by year.”

Water and sewage alone make up over a third of operating costs, he added.

The NHC’s budget for utilities in 2016-17 sits at $100,353,000, MLAs heard, which represents an increase of 16 per cent since 2014.

Another $7.5 million in supplementary appropriation funding was approved during the legislative assembly’s fall sitting, specifically to address increases to water rates and heating fuel usage.

But the corporation’s 2015-18 business plan indicates that funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. for maintaining its social housing inventory is declining and will phase out entirely by 2037.

Current funding levels don’t appear to keep up with rate at which public housing is being built, Hickes said, noting 248 new public units were constructed in 2015.

“It’s fantastic when we get money to build new units across the territory, but at the same time it puts strain on the Nunavut Housing Corp. and, in turn, on the Government of Nunavut to provide operations and maintenance costs for those units,” he said.

The cost of maintaining the NHC’s staff housing stock tends to be less, Hickes said, given that many tenants are responsible for paying their own utilities. He estimated staff housing units cost about $14,000 a year to maintain.

But Nunavut’s housing shortage is still the corporation’s biggest challenge. NHC’s latest estimates suggest 1,872 families are in need of public housing, or 372 five-plex units.

The NHC said 1,300 staff housing units are needed to meet demands across the territory.

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