Critic-turned-minister to review GN staff housing program
Human Resources Minister Adam Lightstone questioned program’s equity for years as a regular MLA
After years of pressing cabinet ministers about the Nunavut government’s staff housing program when he was an MLA, Human Resources Minister Adam Lightstone announced he plans to do a formal review of the system that allocates housing to employees.
It came after Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, the MLA for Iqaluit-Sinaa, asked Lightstone on Wednesday in the legislative assembly what specific actions he plans to take to address a lack of housing for Government of Nunavut staff.
“When the minister sat on this side of the house during the previous assembly, he raised the issue of staff housing on many occasions,” Brewster said.
“As a former manager, or leader in the public service, I’m acutely aware that far too many of our government’s employees are living in fragile housing situations.”
Lightstone said, “I’m proud to share with the assembly that in my role I will be initiating a review of the GN staff housing program to address that specific matter.”
The policy on the program states its intention is to provide subsidized staff housing to term and indeterminate employees to help recruitment and staff retention within the territory’s public service.
Last year, Lightstone tabled his Staff Housing Distribution Report, which says 71 per cent of staff housing is taken up by the territory’s highest-paid government employees.
It also shows Inuit occupy fewer housing units than their non-Inuit colleagues, an issue he also brought up back in 2018.
Brewster also asked Lightstone how many casual and indeterminate GN employees are homeless or near-homeless, but he said the department doesn’t track that data.
Tununiq MLA Karen Nutarak asked Lightstone questions on Thursday that shone light on staff housing issues in Pond Inlet, specifically.
There are about 70 vacant territorial government positions in that community, so Nutarak wanted to know: how does the government decide which jobs come with housing, and which don’t?
Lightstone said the staff housing allocation committee that oversees how units are distributed has been in a “very difficult” situation lately with very few units being move-in ready.
“[The committee] has been forced to allocate staff housing in a more restrictive way,” Lightstone said about the situation in recent months.
He said this has led the committee to focus on assigning housing units to staff working in positions related to public safety.
There are currently eight staff housing units in Pond Inlet ready for someone to move in when they’re hired, said Lightstone. Four need renovations and should be ready in three months or so, and five units need major repairs.
Former ministers Arviat South MLA Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes also pressed Lightstone for more details on his review.
Savikataaq asked when the review will start, when it will be completed and whether the minister will make the results public.
Lightstone said one of the goals of the review will be to identify any inequities, but beyond that, he didn’t have more details at this time.
After Lightstone said he didn’t have a set timeline for the review, Savikataaq asked, “Was this review planned or did he just come up with it now?”
Lightstone said it’s still in the planning stages, but he has had some discussions with staff.
“I can assure the member and the house that the review will be completed,” he said.
Like Brewster, Savikataaq also brought up Lightstone’s history of discussing the program in the legislative assembly.
“MLA Lightstone mentioned that sometimes people are in government staff housing too long and there should be a limited period where a person can stay in the staff house and move on to the get their own house,” Savikataaq said, asking whether this will be considered in the review.
Lightstone said he could not make specific promises about what will come from the review.
“It’s extremely important that all decisions are made in an informed fashion,” he said.
Hickes asked what exactly Lightstone hopes to accomplish with the review, but he said he couldn’t provide more details yet, except the intention is an overall improvement.
Housing policy in general in Nunavut needs modernization. To get housing in Nunavut right now you have 3 options: Have a bunch of babies and get Public Housing, Buy a house and make sure you know how to fix and maintain everything from A to Z, or get staff housing if you have a good GN job and a university degree. Sadly for Inuit usually the only option is the have more babies option, which some would call a “perverse incentive”.
If there was more support to homeowners I am sure there would be less of a demand and need for staff housing. There are people who have worked for the GN for 25 years and have been in staff housing the whole time. The main reason is access to support. If you own a home outside of Cambridge, Rankin or Iqaluit, good luck getting anyone to fix anything. The Housing Office will gladly fix GN units and Public Housing Units, but if you own your own home, you are completely on your own.
How can Nunavut change from everyone fighting for government housing to everyone fighting for land to build their houses on?
There is zero support for homeowners in smaller communities. You know things are bad when homeowners are wilfully selling their homes to NHC just so they can get back on subsidized rental housing.
GN staff units should not be subsidized the way they are though. If you are making $100,000 per year you can afford $2500 per month in rent, you can afford to pay market rate for gas, you can afford to pay market rate for electricity.
Hmm?? being an ex- staffer in a GN staff unit, was I fleeced by NHC? GN staff units are labelled as subsidized, but paid top of the scale rent. Once back in a public unit rent paid was the same amount top of the scale as with the subsidized GN staff unit.. In other words Public and Staff units are both indeed subsidized to the hilt. Cant afford the $28-30 K maintenance of such units. So maybe I’ll become a homeowner, on second thoughts NAW– cant afford to maintain home with fuel cost expected to go through the proverbial subsidized ceiling.
Lightstone being in this role is an absolute joke. Good luck recruiting any skilled or educated workers to Nunavut (including born and raised Nunavummiut who have since moved elsewhere) while removing staff housing from the majority of job opportunities. There’s a reason the GN has an ever-increasing list of vacancies in skilled positions.
I suspect reality is more likely to crash in on Adam than he is on it. How he handles the “dose” headed his way is the question. Hopefully he can adapt to it well.
You hope, I’m less sure than you are about that. So far he has not shown himself to be a serious person on this or any other issue, who knows what he will do with all eyes on him and his old enemies calling his bluff.
I also don’t know if I have much faith in the premier who put him in this position. I mean, what in the world was he thinking? Or, not thinking, might be the better way to put it.
Give me a break there is probably 100 empty federal units in town that have been sitting empty for years
Could be, but they’re not part of the equation – for our purposes they are already rented. So, why bother talking about them? Let’s focus on the possible and constructive.
I hope Adam has matured since his days of being the ‘critic.’ On the one hand criticism can be easy, but it is also a skill to do it well. As I saw it his criticisms were poorly thought out and not that insightful, they just rang with that populist twang people love.
Taking aim at the ‘southerners’ hogging up all the staff housing, for example, is an easy cheer and a hurrah in many quarters, including our local media. But the situation is too complex to be explained or understood with thoughtless reductions of this sort. I wonder, is this the foggy outline around your ‘equity arguments, Adam?
Get rid of all staff housing units and turn them into public housing units. Can anyone guess what happens next?
if they’re all public housing then the problem will REMAIN THE SAME. Birth rates in Nunavut far surpass the houses built. The problem of housing will ALWAYS be there until Little Kids are no longer raised by slightly bigger kids.
Take a look into the crystal ball 50yrs later, what do you see for Nunavut? EVERYONE will be depended on the govt for housing, ie. Retired,unemployed,employed. Its unrealistic to be a home owner in Nunavut, even if you can afford it. NU govt is set up to look after EVERYONE’S housing needs in the future.
The GN used to have a Policy under which the GN was required to provide fnding to municipalities sufficient for each of them to maintain a 3 year supply of housing lots.
That policy “went away”, and so has the availability of building lots.
No lots means no construction.
No construction means the price of existing houses goes up, no matter the condition of the house, due to increasing demand.
It also means the price of new construction keeps rising.
None of Nunavut’s problems will be resolved until there is a surplus of houses. All those saying people earning more than $XXX should move out of staff housing and rent instead need to realize that there’s almost nothing to rent because the governments have the houses on long term leases.
Housing will always be an issue here in Nunavut, there’s too many babies being born to bigger babies, this is so they can get housing. When 14 yrs olds stop having 3-5 kids and learn to get educated and see why its not a good thing to have children when they are children, only then will things change here. Right now there are so many young mothers walking around with kids and only relying on the system to support them. Young people do not need babies to tie them down, they need to get educated and flourish. Start their lives and get situated in their life and figure out what they plan to do with their lives. Then once they get get a job and money coming in and a partner, then they will be ready to bring up children, because they won’t be children, they will be adults.
What about acting DMs will they be thought of in the staff housing competition?
Conflict of interest accusations seem to be all the rage these days.
How many government decision-makers and other influential people live in staff housing? How many own residential units they rent out to government? What role do these people have in devising solutions for the housing situation (or opting not to devise solutions)? These people like the status quo just fine, thank you very much.
If you’re curious why this issue never seems to improve, start there.
GN subsidized housing should be based on houshold income. Secretaries should not pay the same as directors. Or they can get out of subsidizing once you reach a certain income and just subsidize the ones based on low income. Treat GN housing like the social housing program. Our inuit birthright orgs should also starting building us up as inuit and build more housing programs in the communities.
Does the GN have any mortgages? How about use the Millions the Feds give for housing as a down payment for a mortgage for houses. Then Make the rent that GN workers are paying cover the Mortgage (if GN units wernt subsidized maybe more people would buy private). If an employee wants to live in a GN unit for 25 years and pay it off but not own it at the end that is their problem. but also if someone comes up from the south and lives in to GN Unit for 5 years, then they should have paid at least 5 years worth of the mortgage off. Then also have options for a GN worker to purchase the house from the GN. Then the GN use that money to put toward building other units.
Wow, appointed as a minister 4 months ago and he hasn’t solved all of the territory’s government housing issues yet! Oh, the outrage! If you are looking for miracles try praying. If you want a reasoned approach to solving long standing issues give the guy a break. This takes careful study, thoughtful consideration, and a reasonable time-line for implementation.
And as for those highly critical former cabinet members – don’t be bitter you didn’t get back in or failed to effectively deal with these same problems. Put the knives away and give Adam a chance to effect real change.
I think part of it is that he was vocal with this for the last 4 years as a critic. but unless he says something different it doesn’t seem like he even read the policy before and tried to come up with ways to make it better. I think it would have been stronger if he already had a list of recommendations that he was going to see if they would work. No he can not be expected to fix it all right now. but he has been going on this for a while already. is it only the job of the regular members to point out flaws and not even try think of solutions?
I want to be hopeful for him.
I don’t think anyone seriously expects Adam to have solved the problem by now, or to ever solve it.
The chides are understandable in the context of his simplistic commentary over the years. At least I can’t see much there that can be called “thoughtful” or “reasonable.” Maybe you can?
Not only has it been a very short time period for a very large issue, but this is not solely a Dept of HR issue. This is also an NHC issue.
When the housing staff is from outside of Iqaluit. I remember so well they would give a housing for the people from where they came from. I was so frustrated because I knew what was happening and because Iqaluit is my home town. One day, I made sure I had lots of Arctic char and give to the housing worker and no time at all we had a house to rent. That happened when we had another appointment with housing worker.
Overnight the GN could mandate that municipalities make hundreds of lots available for immediate development and it still wouldn’t make any difference. The average cost to build a home in Nunavut is between $550 and $600 per square foot. That puts the price for a modest 1,200 square foot house at between $660,00 and $700,000. The only folks who will be able afford that are the same people being slagged in these comments! And no making more houses available will not force anyone out of government housing. Why pay $3K to $4K/month for a mortgage plus maintenance, fuel, water and hydro when you can stay and pay $2K all in?
Sort of like Acting DM appointments, nepotism with housing allocation is not to be discussed.
Its refreshing to see George taking a measured and respectful stance on this issue. That is the kind of leadership we need in the assembly. Joe may be locking horns with the newly minted Minister but can you blame him? At least the tone is respectful and in earnest. Thank you Joe and George for continuing to bring a modicum of maturity to this sitting. It will not go unnoticed.
time to eat your old words kid, maybe you’ll be more thoughtful in the coming years, just letting out steam just for the sake of it usually come to no good. what goes around comes around, You will find out pretty quick there is no golden goose that lay $$$.
Ya there is it is become and MLA… or get a job with the GN… then you cant get fired/unelected. haha
Iqaluit GN staff housing needs to be reevaluated. As someone just commented a Director, ADM or a DM shouldn’t be paying same amount as a Secretary or even someone in Range 11.
ADM, DM’s should be encouraged to enrol in the GN Housing plan to purchase the units they have for sale.
Yes they may not get OT pay, but they sure make alot more and have more leave credits earned.
NHC staff housing also shouldn’t be the only ones allocated to newer staff housing.
Adam, some Iqaluit residence wrote emails to you and you choose to ignore… Its time you really dig into NHC, HR statistics in Iqaluit . Which Dept has a huge turn over? Why? What are the complaints? What page range has staff housing, which Dept? Race? GN SH should start charging rent base on household income especially those in ADM, DM positions.!!
I think applying an income tax based on staff housing rent is misplaced. The rent is the rent. What next, charge the secretary less for chicken?
The rent can be lower, just the GN thinks it makes sense to pay for private buildings owned by NCC and Northview ten times over though commercial leases instead of building them itself. They do so because the politicians who made this policy benefit from their interests in these companies.
Are these staff housing subsidies considered benefits and get taxed on?
There is apparently no reason why they are not. It seems CRA turns a blind-eye. If you get taxed for free or cheap parking provided by an employer in Vancouver, you should be taxed. The problem is there is no real market rate for these units, market rate is what is defined by the government since they lease 99% of all buildings.
You could free up a lot of units by allowing loyal and professional staff to work remotely.
Here is an interesting discussion waiting to happen… I’m not sure what I think of it, but this does strike me as ground worth exploring, especially given the connection to housing you’ve made.
Are there jobs within the GN ecosystem that could be done, and done well, remotely?
How many are there?
This would be a contentious debate I think, a lot of people would not accept the idea of such high pay making its way into homes outside the territory, instead of ones here. It’s not hard to see their point. But then, would the same arrangement also apply to all Nunavummiut, both Inuit and non-inuit? if not, why not?
I hope we hear more of this.
There are a few jobs where this could be done or, where it is effectively already being done. The irony is that the GN pays consultants multiples more than equivalent employees, and they work from the south. Some of these people literally have @gov.nu.ca emails and appear to be employees (CGS). GN Departments will not entertain the discussion because a) many employees are not fit for remote work and would be jealous and upset and b) the prevailing incorrect political opinion is that this will take aware Inuit jobs. I say that they could hire a ton of Inuit in Ottawa (largest Inuit population in the south) or across the North very easily, driving up their land claim obligations. The government also saves: no northern allowance, no relocation. It gains retention, which is sorely lacking at the GN.
If the pandemic did not force this I don’t think it will happen. MLAs are too short-sighted. I will be leaving GN and working as a consultant doing the same job for x3 the wage, as many others already do. I would just as easily stay on staff if I could work from the south since I’d trade the wage for the security/pension.
I remember Jim Bell writing the odd editorial on the request of someone in the comments section, if the topic was worth writing about of course. I wonder if Corey would do the same? What do you say, Mr. Editor? Seems like a topic worth digging in to.
GN should open office for non-essential worker’s in places where housing IS NOT A CRISES! Put Kitikmot office in Edmanton put Kewadin Office down in in Winnapeg and also Baffin Office in Ottawa. Most these GN worker’s dream to do their work out-side Nunavut. Keep worker’s in Nunavut for essential jobs like nurse/socialworker/Teacher then make every else work douth south. Can even turn in these GN office buildings into housings for inuits and even homelist shelters, can turn GN housing into housing for inuits, WAKE UP PEOPLE this is an easy problem to fix BUT these ministers are keep doing it wrong
Dumb idea. If you were to work remotely from the south you would be expected to do so from your place of residence. The GN will NEVER set up remote offices for southern workers and why should they?
One example. My office is functioning on 3/11 PYs for years now and stays afloat through several dozen southern consultants. The consultants earn 3-4 times what GN staff earn per hour. Many consultants are former staff. Retention is impossible. Recruitment is expensive and time-consuming. The reason why is because the model in place since 1999 has failed, and will continue to fail. It is a fact that living in the North is just not attractive to most professionals.
To function, many positions could be done from the south. Right now a large portion of health care is delivered via video link. If that can be done, I can see almost every office job that involves minimal oversight as being done remote. There is no need for southern offices in 2022. I work pretty much autonomously and my only interaction with management is to have my leave approved.
The only part of the GN’s operations where this might make sense is IT but then why not just contract that whole function out to a Southern Supplier and save even more money while we are at it?