Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 11, 2018 - 10:30 am

Nunavut MLAs scrutinize housing corporation’s expanding budget

Average O&M cost per social housing unit now about $27,000 per year

JANE GEORGE
Under sunny skies on June 8 in Iqaluit, MLAs discussed the budget of the Nunavut Housing Corp. inside the assembly chamber of the territorial legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Under sunny skies on June 8 in Iqaluit, MLAs discussed the budget of the Nunavut Housing Corp. inside the assembly chamber of the territorial legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Part of the solution to Nunavut's housing crisis: affordable condos like these ones in the Road-to-Nowhere neighbourhood of Iqaluit which are sold to Government of Nunavut employees. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Part of the solution to Nunavut's housing crisis: affordable condos like these ones in the Road-to-Nowhere neighbourhood of Iqaluit which are sold to Government of Nunavut employees. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

One of Nunavut’s biggest problems—the chronic lack of affordable housing in the territory—received hours of discussion last Friday at the Nunavut legislature, where MLAs reviewed the budget of the Nunavut Housing Corp. in committee of the whole.

That’s despite the urging of Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, who chairs the committee of the whole, to speed up their work.

MLAs still have many 2018-19 budget requests remaining from the Government of Nunavut’s 10 departments and five Crown corporations to look at, line-by-line, a task they must finish by the end of the spring sitting this Friday.

But after about five hours of questions posed at Lorne Kusugak, the minister responsible for the housing corporation, Terry Audla, the housing corporation’s president and Gershom Moyo, its chief financial officer, the MLAs were finally ready by mid-afternoon on June 8 to approve the housing corporation’s budget.

With a stock of about 5,000 public housing units and another 1,400-plus staff units across Nunavut, the housing corporation is by far the biggest landlord in the territory.

It’s also one of the largest departments within the Government of Nunavut, accounting for about 14 per cent of the territorial government’s budget, roughly $201 million in 2018-19, just a little less than the Education Department’s $213 million.

While the housing corporation budget may seem big, the territory’s housing needs remain big, too, with several MLAs bringing up the dire lack of housing in their communities, which can lead to up to 23 or more people at a time sharing a three-bedroom house.

“There’s overcrowding and homeless people everywhere in Nunavut who are living in shacks,” Kusugak said.

An estimated 3,000 more housing units are needed to deal with what Audla called a “huge housing deficit.”

But building more public housing creates issues of its own for the corporation: every time Nunavut gets more units, these cost the GN more to maintain, Audla said.

The average annual maintenance cost for a public housing unit is now about $27,000 per year.

Kusugak and Audla referred to a new deal between the GN and Ottawa on housing as well as possible partnerships with Inuit-owned organizations that are expected to bring more housing construction, but building more housing will push the corporation’s annual budget even higher.

For example, the 91 new housing units coming in 2018-19 mean the housing corporation needs $2.15 million more to cover the increased cost of maintenance and administration, utilities, property taxes, and leases for those 91 units.

Discussion at the committee of the whole focused on how those costs could be reduced.

“I think the key is education and awareness,” Kusugak told the MLAs.

“The biggest energy saver is the person who is in the house. I think it’s very important for the housing corporation to put out a campaign to shut windows, turn down the thermostats, turn lights off, don’t leave lights unattended, and things like that. And, don’t plug in your vehicle if it doesn’t need to be plugged in.”

Some tenants don’t want to fix a doorknob or they leave their windows open in winter, so this creates more operations and maintenance expenses.

To improve this situation, the housing corporation plans to start a tenant awareness program, similar to the Pivallianiq program run by the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau in Nunavik, aimed at better home and equipment maintenance, along with less vandalism and more tenant pride.

But high operations and maintenance costs are not the only financial challenges the housing corporation faces in the territory. While about nine in 10 tenants pay their rent, non-paying tenants owe more than $30 million in accumulated rent arrears.

The MLAs also looked at the corporation’s success in carrying out the “Blueprint for Action on Housing—Implementation Plan for the Government of Nunavut Long-Term Comprehensive Housing and Homelessness Strategy,” tabled in 2016 in the Nunavut legislature.

This document contained 60 specific action items for the housing corporation to deal with in a two-year period.

However, the housing corporation’s proposed 2018-2021 business plan said some actions planned for the 2017-18 fiscal year under the Blueprint for Action on Housing were not completed as a consequence of “capacity constraints,” said Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main, of the standing committee on community and economic development, in his report to the committee of the whole.

“The standing committee recognizes that it is not practical to address all of the blueprint’s action items at the same time and encourages the NHC to prioritize and focus its work,” Main said.

But Kusugak said the corporation plans “to update staff housing and homeownership programs, which will improve how we respond to housing needs across the territory.”

Still, home ownership remains a tough sell. Public housing tenants can ask to buy their unit, but so far no one has, possibly because of high operating and maintenance costs.

MLAs also cited other economic constraints on accessing housing: for example, if you earn $177,000 in Iqaluit, you won’t qualify for social housing but you’ll earn too much to access home ownership programs.

About 55 GN workers in Iqaluit have bought into a staff condominium program where a $269,000 three-bedroom condo costs about $2,115 a month in mortgage and condo fees.

For now, the 600 or so GN workers living in staff housing in Iqaluit don’t have to worry about being forced into home ownership.

“We’re revising that position at this point,” Kusugak said. “It’s not an option right now in Iqaluit.”

You can follow the action this week in the legislature, during the final week of its spring sitting, starting at 10 a.m., online.

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(15) Comments:

#1. Posted by Oscare on June 11, 2018

Some tenants wont’ call for maintenance because they know the crews wont show up or the maintenance crews does a crappy job or the crews only pick easy work orders. But majority of the maintenance issues are tenant damage related, like holes in walls/doors, broken windows, etc. Some tenants treat these units like their very own punching bag and they wonder why our housing stock is in bad shape.

NHC renovates the units through the M&I Program, only to see these units get damaged again and again by bad tenants. Something has to change.

#2. Posted by Ian on June 11, 2018

#1 to clarify the reason is not about a bad job done by maintenance it is for the fact that the tenants do not want to be charged for tenant damage and also for neglect of their unit.  Not all Maintenance locations are bad and not all tenants are bad to. 

The problem with most housing in the North is that houses have exceeded their life and needs to be replaced or the maintenance budget increased as the current funding is not funded correctly and is based off a old system.  More money is needed to maintain these houses from falling apart.  This is also due to poor building practices and poor designs.  Also a lack of input from the end users and maintainers. 

Time for Government to start evicting those that don’t pay it is a privilege to live in public housing it is not a right.

#3. Posted by Lifetime Use on June 11, 2018

#1 This is what happens when you give people something of high value for nothing

#4. Posted by Oscare on June 11, 2018

Exactly #3. The entire delivery has to be revamped. The GN/NHC needs to start thinking outside the box. Old school ways do not work no more.

#5. Posted by pissed off on June 11, 2018

No 2 Please look at no 3 `s answer.

It is so true.

On the other hand, please note that a house does not have to be `` finished`` after 10 or 15 years.

This is total nonsense. A well looked after house can last a very long time even in the North.

Too much emphasis on`` no good anymore`` and too little love and care. It`s easy for someone looking at a number of houses to put them all in the same bag and say: `` beyond repair`` . The same goes for vehicles and large equipment. A good number of private companies have taken off the hands of the Gov,  equipment deemed `` obsolete`` only to be used for a very long time doing work for the same Government.

THanks

#6. Posted by 55 GN workers Condo on June 11, 2018

I hope all 55 of the people who got to buy those incredibly CHEAP condos were long standing Inuit employees who either had staff housing or public housing. I say that because Inuit make up over 95% of all Public Housing Tenants and it is this target group that has the biggest need to transition over to Private Homeownership.

#7. Posted by Nunavut Resident on June 11, 2018

Nunavut is never going to meet the needs of housing residents.  There are so many factors.  The amount of damage being done to units is outrageous and expensive, yet many tenants pay little in rent.  Money, that cumulatively could be used to build additional units.
The other massive, yet ‘touchy’ issue is that Nunavut can’t keep up with its rapidly growing population—for housing, but for health care and education too. 
People who can barely look after themselves and a single child, continue to have more and more children.  They let their children destroy homes—they don’t deserve access to public housing. 
Birth control and incentives for people to have only have a few children so that they can better meet their needs is the answer.  This is the land of used and neglected children.  Until that starts happening, Nunavut is screwed!

#8. Posted by NHC needs a working President on June 12, 2018

What has happened since Audla has assumed the office.  Nothing other then collecting whatever they can for welfare housing.  Never any new programs to reduce the dependeance on government for more hand outs.  What did he do before as a President of ITK, absolutely nothing!

#9. Posted by quick set of hands on June 12, 2018

Where is the voice in the Federal government when we need help with housing up here in Nunavut? wasn’t he the housing minister that made the Money disappear like a magician with a quick set of hands, pfff up in the air

#10. Posted by Markey Dan on June 12, 2018

For years people have been wrecking their homes, not paying their rent,
turning their houses into dog stink places.
Why are the Housing Association letting them away with it ?
  I quit paying my rent about 2 years ago. Why not, who cares?
I also let my cousin’s small family stay in my house, and he pays me
rent or he gets kicked out. What a life!

#11. Posted by TundraTom on June 12, 2018

#7 is absolutely right.  The GN and NHC will never be able to keep up with the growing population.  And as others have said, there is no incentive for anyone to own their own home if NHC picks up all the bills for operating the house.  At least NHC put the issue of on-going maintenance on the table.  At almost 1/2 Million to build and then $27k to maintain, this is unsustainable.

#12. Posted by Adam Smith on June 12, 2018

“Still, home ownership remains a tough sell. Public housing tenants can ask to buy their unit, but so far no one has, possibly because of high operating and maintenance costs.”

You think?  Maybe give this guy the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Let’s see, which should I do?

Option 1:
Spend 25 years paying $500,000 to buy a house and also pay $27,000 per year for operating expenses, or

Option 2:
Pay $60 per month to rent this house and $0.06 per kWh for electricity?

With option 1 we get to decide what colour to paint the house.  With option 2 we get to take a family vacation every year.

What to do?  Who should I ask for advice?

#13. Posted by Archie. Iqaluit on June 12, 2018

# 12,
Why don’t you ask # 10 ?

#14. Posted by outside looking in on June 13, 2018

Kusugak said it best “tenant pride” will help with maintenance and feel like its there’s and take ownership of it. If you only pay a little for anything you dont care what happens to it because you can just get a new one without much mishap. Also find a way to collect those outstanding rent payments. I know if I was owed 30 million I would be knocking on doors. Thats how many other condo complex buildings with maintenance fees? Housing has a budget almost as large as our education budget and there is a huge deficit in housing, what does that say about our education?

#15. Posted by Scripto on June 13, 2018

#14,
I like your points, I blame too many highly paid people not doing their
  jobs.
I got sick of slobs always getting new houses, not paying rent, and
saying ” I got kids “.  I quit paying rent years ago, I owe close to
  $40,000.  I can’t and won’t pay rent cos I got kids
# 10,
  Interesting letter, some good ideas.

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