Ottawa must help
There are two surprises contained in NWT Housing Minister Goo Arlooktoo’s recently released housing needs survey.
One is that the numbers aren’t worse than most of us suspected.
The other is that, on the eve of division, the survey contains no acknowledgment that the new territorial government in Nunavut will get stuck with the greatest housing burden after 1999.
In 1993, the federal government stopped paying for the construction of new social housing in the NWT. Even without the benefit of the GNWT’s latest information, we already know that this had a devastating effect on Nunavut’s Inuit communities.
In 1992, the year of the GNWT’s last housing needs survey, 3,500 households were without adequate shelter. Now, after nearly four years of little or no help from Ottawa, that number has jumped to 4,350 households. This represents nearly one-quarter of the NWT’s population.
But that one-quarter is calculated from a population that includes Yellowknife and other affluent sub-Arctic centres in the West. The figures aren’t broken down on a Nunavut-only basis. So the material released by Arlooktoo doesn’t say how many of those 4,350 households in need are located in Nunavut, and how many are located in the west.
All the same, you don’t need a degree in economics to figure that the majority of those 4,350 households in need live in our side of the division boundary. And everyone already knows that, with the possible exception of some small Dene and Inuvialuit communities in the new western territory, it’s in Nunavut where the housing shortage has become a social emergency.
In Hall Beach, for example, there are 86 public housing units. But the waiting list for housing units in that community contains 24 names. Some have waited years, which means that, while they’re waiting, they pile into whatever they can find. As a result, some houses there are occupied by upwards of 15 people at a time.
And in Clyde River, the hamlet can’t even hire a new assistant SAO because there’s no housing. In that community, there are just over 90 public housing units, and nearly 70 people on their housing association’s waiting list. That means that to meet Clyde River’s needs, the number of housing units in that community would need to be doubled.
To be fair, the NWT Housing Corporation has developed many creative and useful housing programs over the years and they’ve done about as well as can reasonably be expected to cope with one of northern Canada’s most intractable social problems.
But they’ve never really developed a housing policy that takes into account the vast differences between the NWT’s Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.
Two years ago, the Nunavut Implementation Commission urged the GNWT to do so, in a recommendation calling for the development of a comprehensive housing policy for Nunavut. That advice fell on deaf ears.
That’s too bad, because a separate housing policy for Nunavut would give the GNWT much ammunition to take to Ottawa. It might even provide the basis for a national Inuit housing policy that could be applied to Nunavik, Labrador and Nunakput.
The GNWT has never taken the federal government to task for its unfair and discriminatory approach to housing for aboriginal people. While the federal government has, in effect, eliminated social housing construction for Inuit in its cuts to the CMHC’s budget, they continue to use DIAND’s budget to spend large sums of money on housing for status and treaty Indians living on reserves.
In 1994, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada tried to make that point to Ottawa, but ITC’s initiative received little support and eventually fizzled.
Arlooktoo says that starting next month, the GNWT will also release needs studies on a community by community basis, and will use that information to deal separately with housing problems in each community. That looks like a useful approach.
But the shortage of housing in Nunavut is an economic problem rooted in a longstanding shortage of employment income. The majority of Nunavut residents just aren’t able to earn enough money to buy or build their own housing, or to rent what’s available on the private market. For the forseeable future, that situation will not change.
So unless Ottawa provides more money for social housing, especially in Nunavut, the GNWT and the new territorial government in Nunavut will never be able to do enough.