Federal advocate explores systemic housing issues in Northern visit

Marie-Josée Houle is Canada’s first federal housing advocate, her work supported by the country’s Human Rights Commission

Marie-Josée Houle outside of an abandoned health centre in Pangnirtung that will be a future elders centre in two to three years. (Photo courtesy of Marie-Josée Houle)

By Meral Jamal

Marie-Josée Houle’s job is to protect the right to housing in Canada, but in order to do that, she says she has to understand the challenges to making this a reality.

That’s why she is back from a trip to the North armed with 3,000 pictures of homes and stories about the sometimes decrepit living conditions inside.

A home in Pangnirtung with seal skins drying outside. The two families who live in the home, eight people in total, are facing eviction and an uncertain future. (Photo courtesy of Marie-Josée Houle)

Between Oct. 17 and 30, Houle travelled to communities such as Rankin Inlet and Pangnirtung, hearing from families living in homes that have been declared as condemned even before they moved in, children experiencing health issues related to mould and people who are scared of dying in a fire because they wouldn’t be able to get out of their homes in time. 

“We would enter their homes and it’s something that was so incredibly intimate,” Houle said.

“We know that for that [to happen] you have to have trust. We also had to make it very clear that the condition of people’s homes wasn’t their fault.”

Houle is Canada’s first housing advocate. She works as part of the Canadian Human Rights Commission to help guide the federal government’s national housing strategy, which recognizes the right to adequate housing. Houle was appointed to the role Feb. 3.

“When I first started my job, I declared that my priority was Indigenous housing,” Houle said. 

“And during the pandemic — back when we learned to do our jobs virtually — we were able to have conversations with people across the country in a way that we never really thought possible before, but I noted quite clearly that even though they were invited, we didn’t have voices from the North present because of connectivity.” 

This was Houle’s first time visiting Nunavut. She said what impacted her the most during her visit was how willingly Nunavummiut volunteered to share their stories. 

She said the challenges that Inuit face — inadequate, inaccessible, unaffordable, overcrowded and unhealthy housing — are clear. She wants to use these challenges to help spur systemic change. 

“My role is to be a watchdog to hold [governments and organizations] to account and to understand their responsibilities around the question of adequate housing as a human right,” she said.

“Looking at housing precarity and homelessness in Canada, but through … systemic issues, not individual claims.”

Houle said she hopes her work also leads to larger conversations about the role housing plays in the overall health of Inuit and Indigenous communities, including how effectively they are able to fight poverty and violence, tuberculosis, addiction and COVID-19. 

“If your housing is inadequate, if it doesn’t meet your needs, it’s going to affect your physical and your mental health,” she said. “But that conversation needs to be taken one step further.”

Houle is hoping to use what she has learned in a final report her office will publish along with recommendations co-developed with Inuit governments early next year.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by come on… on

    Yeah, more dollars on yet another housing report…. Sometimes I think that if someone doesn’t do a tour every month, spend a bunch of money and do another Housing report we might forget the state of housing in Nunavut…
    It’s time to look at legal action against every politician or government employee who does another trip to make themselves feel good and accomplish absolutely nothing.
    All these south people are absolutely useless and just want a free trip because they haven’t been to Nunavut (STOP be tourists->cause that’s all these same reports amount to).

    • Posted by Dave on

      And you can continue to expect it.

      As long as the GN continues to deflect all responsibility and blame the Federal government for the GN’s failures. Expect this response.

  2. Posted by Drumroll please on

    This reminds me of Mummillaq’s housing tour. Bunch of stuff we already knew about houses being in decrepit states. Feds will send this lady around Canada on taxpayer’s dime going into houses and virtue signaling that “its not their fault, its canada’s fault”. gimme a break.

    • Posted by it is the Federal Gov responsibility on

      There was no such thing as a homeless Inuk before colonization, the Feds wanted us to be reliant on them by taking away our way of life before colonization, they wanted us to settle in these communities. The GN is doing what it can but with the funds that the Federal Government is allocating isn’t enough. In my opinion the federal government is responsible for the housing crisis indigenous people are facing. Stop blaming the GN, the GN can only work with what the Federal Government is giving them. Look up how much money Nunavut contributed to the Canadian economy, it’s estimated $40 million and the Canadian Government gives back in return an estimated amount of $3 million dollars…We are contributing way more then we are receiving, while the Canadian Government is giving way more money to other countries to help them…

      • Posted by Fun with math on

        Wow, those numbers you throw out there are really something. Just wow. I mean the rest of the comment is incorrect as well, but those dollar figures you’re citing are comically false.

      • Posted by Decolonize your domicile on

        “There was no such thing as a homeless Inuk before colonization”

        True, Inuit lived in skin tents, dugouts, and snow houses. Lets revitalize this tradition!

    • Posted by Anybody Else Need to see Before Some Action? on

      Don’t forget about the Senate tour as well! Before Mumilaaq’s tour, Senator Patterson and his cronies came up to do the same thing. I wonder if this Marie-Josée Houle looked at either one of those reports before she decided to come do her tour.
      Who’s next? Obed? I heard he just got some research money too.

  3. Posted by Forever Amazed on

    That is exactly what Nunavut does not need – another southerner coming north with “good” intentions.

  4. Posted by Honest Question on

    In my time in the north, I have seen what appears to me to be overcrowding in houses. But at the same time, I have heard from Inuit that, and this obviously doesn’t cover everyone, a house full of people is preferred. With the historic sod houses and igloos that were built, being crowded and cramped was comfort, warmth, safety, family.

    Is this way of thinking still prevalent? Is it even a way of thinking outside of the people I’ve talked to personally? Would love to hear more about this perspective.

    • Posted by While we’re being honest… on

      Let’s find out why so many young adults who are allocated social housing spend so little time in their unit, preferrring to essentially continue living with parents, while only using their own unit as a party house.
      Also, lets find out how many tenants in social housing cram themselves and their kids into 1 or 2 bedrooms in order to designate one bedroom as a “smoke room”.

      • Posted by What a racist comment on

        Wow, you sound like you are an expert on Inuit and their life style. Why are you in Nunavut? You sound like you are racist making comments like this…this is not all Inuit that do this, only a small percentage. STOP generalizing all Inuit, you sound like your just up here to make that Nunavut money and not help the Inuit…Don’t forget who’s land you are on and whom you are working for, check yourself or get out of my Nunavut!!!

        • Posted by While we’re being honest… on

          I am not sure why you would take my comment as racist. No race was even mentioned. And I do not pretend to be some sort of expert on anything, least of all public housing. But I know what I see happening all around me, and my point is if we are going to put more money to another study on housing in Nunavut, let’s make it comprehensive and exhaustive.
          I work in Nunavut but earn Canadian money, and I am paid fairly for my experience, knowledge and education level. I live in my own home in a Nunavut municipality, thus on Commissioners (Crown) land transferred to the municipality for development and management. So neither you nor anyone else will tell me to leave. I will stay right here and continue to enjoy my very comfortable life. I am entitled to my opinion and will not be bullied into silence or leaving.

  5. Posted by So whose fault is it? on

    “We also had to make it very clear that the condition of people’s homes wasn’t their fault.”
    This is so wrong.
    The conditions that some people choose to live in is exactly the problem.

    If I live in a home and I do not clean it regularly, and I do not wash my stove after using it, and I never wipe up water in the bathroom after a bath, and I never wash my toilet, I never wipe any crayon marks off the walls, and my windows and walls are busted up because I got drunk and stupid…how can you say that the condition of my home isn’t my fault?
    If my kitchen taps leak and mold forms under the sink, but I am too afriad to call housing because I haven’t paid my rent in five years, whose fault is that?
    Years and years of neglect by individuals living in homes and not keeping the home clean or maintained is the cause of most of the housing problems.

    • Posted by Overcrowding is the problem on

      WOW, so many racist comments on here…So many people blaming Inuit and being so judgmental!!! When you are living in a 2 bedroom home with 20 other people, the 2 bedroom home is not built to house 20 people. Most of you people generalizing all Inuit to be messy, dirty and lazy are probably the ones that are up here to make the money and leave, I bet you only have Inuk friends at work and don’t do anything to help, only here to make that Nunavut money and are probably living in a GN subsidized housing that is over housed and having a contract that pays your mortgage down south. What are you doing to help educate those who are living in these awful conditions? Get out of my Nunavut…remember who’s land you are on and check yourself…show some respect, remember you wouldn’t be making the salary you are if it were not for Nunavut and the Inuit living in it…so disgusted in these comments, your privilege is showing, check yourself!!!

  6. Posted by No Right to Free Social Housing on

    housing is a private responsibility. nunavummuit act like having a free house paid and maintained by government is a right under the laws of Canada. it isn’t. it’s not in the Nunavut Agreement either. 85% of all housing being social housing is enabling this attitude of entitlement and demands. go to work, buy house.

  7. Posted by Racism on

    Wow all these comments are so racist and is not showing reconciliation. Where do you get free housing??? I want a free house, I pay rent and work hard. I don’t get free housing, this is such a dangerous comment to make…free housing…it’s just like that myth that indigenous people don’t pay taxes. if you are in Nunavut, why are you here making these kind of comments and generalizing all Inuit. How racist and small minded are you to generalize a whole culture that was colonized only 50 years ago, Inuit were forced to live in settlement, it was not by choice. Inuit went from igloo to cell phones in less then 50 years and not to mention residential school…before colonization there was no such thing as a homeless Inuk, we were living our best lives before colonizers came and forced their beliefs and life styles on them…these comments of putting Inuit down for their lifestyles are from a place of bias and racial discrimination. Don’t forget that without the Inuit there would be no Nunavut and you wouldn’t be here making the $100, 000- $200,00 dollars a year while living in a subsidized GN unit and having your mortgage paid for, sounds like you have forgotten who’s land you are on!!! Get out of my Nunavut if you feel this way about Inuit!!!!

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