Housing is Nunavut’s weakest link

“Will I find employment with housing quickly enough after I graduate, or will I end up like my younger sister, moving south simply to find a decent place to live?”

Nunavut’s housing shortage leaves Marley Angugatsiaq Dunkers, a student in the Nunavut Law Program, wondering whether she will be able to find a job that includes housing in Iqaluit, seen here, once she graduates. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Marley Angugatsiaq Dunkers

Updated July 3, 11 a.m.

My name is Marley Angugatsiaq Dunkers and I am a Finnish-Inuk. In my 27 years I have lived in all three regions of Nunavut and have called Iqaluit home for the last 10 years. I lost my father at the age of 16, and my mother at 23. This makes me an iliarjuk—an orphan—and places me among the fragile homeless of Nunavut.

I am currently entering into the final year of the Nunavut Law Program. While the program is in session and during the summer, I have student housing. Family members and friends welcome me into their homes when I am not able to stay in student housing during the Christmas holidays. Having no home since my parents died puts significant stressors on me.

As I try to focus on my studies, I consider my future after graduation. I reassure myself that I have a plethora of opportunities when I complete my program.

Will I really? What options will be open to me for reliable housing so that I can make the professional commitments I need to advance my career? Will I find employment with housing quickly enough after I graduate, or will I end up like my younger sister, moving south simply to find a decent place to live?

Even major employers in Nunavut have gaps in their housing resources. I worked for the Government of Nunavut before entering the Nunavut Law Program. I never secured housing or an indeterminate job, nor was I offered educational leave as I was a casual employee.

I don’t think I can point to one person whose fault that would be. Nor do I think it would be helpful to point the finger. I do know that Inuit represent 50 per cent of GN employees and only hold 25 per cent of the allocated GN units. In 2018, 148 Inuit in higher-earning professional, management or executive roles received staff housing through the GN, but 855 non-Inuit in those same categories benefited from that privilege.

Picture in your mind a business pyramid for the Government of Nunavut. At the base would be entry-level jobs like administrative assistants. Many of these jobs are held by Inuit—and many do not “qualify” to receive housing with their employment. The higher you go up the pyramid, into positions such as managers, directors and deputy ministers, the more non-Inuit you will find and the greater a likelihood that those positions will be allocated housing, whether they are transient professionals or long-time residents of Nunavut.

Is resourcing and subsidizing the best-paid positions really the best use of the GN’s housing money? With “management” salaries easily over $100,000, senior officials can afford to buy from the already limited available private housing in Nunavut, and yet they benefit the most from the subsidies they receive.

Are we developing policy and thinking about youth and people with a desire to transition, with the insecurity of years of couch surfing, with the hard work of getting an education in Nunavut or in the south, and then looking for options to start careers? Who writes the GN and Nunavut Housing Corp.’s housing policies and who do these policies serve? With such a lopsided internal set of priorities, how can we work for the best for the whole territory?

Nunavut faces overcrowded housing, lack of housing, over-expensive housing, mouldy housing, yet those who are making decisions seem very distant from people—even people they know and work with—who face issues similar to mine.

For those who know me, or first meet me, they would say that I look well put together, I am following the rules and moving forward. I do not fit the stereotype of what a homeless person looks like. Homelessness runs very deep in Nunavut, and once misfortune or a misstep causes you to lose your toehold in the Nunavut housing scene, there are very few ways to clamber back to security and safety.

If we as Nunavut want to take action and make a difference, we must listen to those less fortunate than we are. We must help uplift them and ensure that we build a territory where we all have fair access to enjoy the basics—including a safe place to live.

As a community, we are only as strong as the weakest link, and housing is clearly our weakest link. It impacts health, education and personal capacity through the generations. Nunavut’s solutions will only come from listening to the most vulnerable in our community and focusing on the people we are here to serve, rather than using resources for the decision-makers, or making decisions on behalf of whoever officialdom imagines the homeless to be.

We need to be both realistic and empathetic, developing housing options that are practical to the entire spectrum of homelessness all around us.

Marley Angugatsiaq Dunkers is a Nunavut Law Program student in Iqaluit.

This article was updated to clarify that the author has student housing during the summer, but not during the Christmas holidays.

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(24) Comments:

  1. Posted by Good Points on

    You should be proudfor taking the initiative and getting through university. Well done. There are about 50 jobs posted on the GN job board where you would qualify and get guaranteed housing. With a law degree you will be and assitant deputy minister in no time. Federal government is even better. With limited housing the taxpayer cannot afford to pay people who answer telephones high five figure salaries and also give them housing. There also needs to be incentive to improve skills and promote to higher positions. There are lots of courses available for people with some drive. Same goes for general labour and other jobs where there are no skills required. You need managers, specialists and high level officials to function and they will not come here without housing or more pay. You should ask NTI why they are not using settlement money to help needy Inuit who are not qualified for government staff housing. They can build hotels and buildings for governmetns to rent from them for profit but they do not seem capable of building housing for social improvement of inuit.

  2. Posted by Housing and Employment on

    I’ve always wondered why housing is so tied to employment here in Nunavut! People always seems to complain that Inuit are not trained or skilled enough for higher positions and the housing that goes along with them(thanks to the limited education opportunities) and then act like having drive or motivation is what’s holding them back from a secure stable home environment. It’s a vicious cycle! Thanks for writing this and pointing out how important it is that our housing policies should be centred around those most in need not those with the most power. Aakuluk!

    • Posted by Krampus on

      But it’s not, really. What both the writer of this letter and many of the comments forget, is that staff housing is only part of what the GN provides. NHC leases around 1,227 staff housing units and owns 437 of the GN employee residences in the territory, for a total of 1644 staff housing units.

      At the same time, NHC administers around 5000 public housing units. Each unit costs around $26,000 per year to maintain. The cost of public housing is, in short, astronomical in Nunavut. It is truly an enormous investment on the part of the territorial government.

    • Posted by Free education on

      I am pretty sure inuit can go to any university in Canada all expenses and travel paid by government so what do you mean limited opportunities? Where else can you go to a law school in a community of less than 10 thousand peoples

      • Posted by Consistency on

        It is not simple to go to a southern university. it means you being in a place that is completely different then what you are use to (think if you had to go to university in a foreign country (with your mother tung not the primary language), and this is HAD to you did not get to chose to go there for the adventure and because you were interested in their culture). And though i do believe that anyone who wants to go to university after high school can succeed (with a lot of hard work put in) University is very different then High school in Nunavut. also there are a lot of young parents. if you have kids before you go to university , then what do you bring your kids? It is also not easy to do school and have your kids there with no extra support from other family, and be successful on top of that. now add in all those things, and that does not even get me to Historical context of residential schools and the feeling your family may have with you leaving home for school, and constantly telling you to come home.

        No going to a southern University is not simple, just because you might get most of it paid for, which also … it is not all a free ride.

        • Posted by Sir Toppam Hatt on

          there are considerable barriers to going to a southern university, yet people still manage to do it and still manage to succeed. Focus on how to get them there, instead of focusing on all the reasons why then can’t do it.

          • Posted by Consistency on

            I do think it is important and very doable and i had to work very hard to get through it. However i feel more should be done to help more get an education. i am just saying it is not easy just because there is less financial burden for some then others. It is more then just about the cost of the University. and when coming up with ways to help those that go we do need to look at ways of encouraging them and supporting them.

            And those that are in the process, keep it up we need people in all fields (not just GN either) to show our kids that they can be anything they want. Because they can.

            • Posted by Sir Toppam Hatt on

              When you say we need people in all fields, not jut the GN I agree very much (I work for the GN and can vouch that it is mostly a dead zone of creativity and new ideas) at the same time we might recognize that once our kids become university trained professionals a great many, perhaps even a majority, may seek a life outside of Nunavut. In some cases they may have no choice.

        • Posted by Consequences on

          Everyone can appreciate going south is hard for new students. Everyone going to a new city or town would feel the same. I imagine almost all inuit graduating now have a good command of English, which is absolutely essential to be successful in the modern work, so I wouldn’t guess language is a barrier. If it is, it just goes to show that all the emphasis on Inuktitut has a consequence if people can’t go get an education.
          People who have barriers like children can always go to the Arctic College, but if not people need to realize that choices have consequences. Young children for young people is almost universally known to be a poor choice for career and education aspirations. There seems to be very little contraception initiatives here to encourage young people to not go down the route until they can afford a family, not rely on government to pay for it. That’s the vicious cycle I can speak to.

  3. Posted by Aksu on

    You hit the nail perfectly on the head.
    We hope that you’ll have more certainty with housing in the near future before opportunities in other jurisdictions are more favorable.
    I always worry about homelessness for my growing children. This would be true for the majority of Nunavummiut.
    With my oldest, I feel that her best option would to move to CANADA to ensure they have a place to live, instead of living with family or friends. Her younger siblings are getting to that age soon.
    Hope this issue will be fixed soon by the federal government.
    Another option the housing associations could do, which has always been there, is to evict rent delinquents in order to house paying renters. The evictions would make tenants with debt to start paying up and Nunavut will have more money to build more houses.

  4. Posted by Sad on

    Don’t even get me started on the lack of resources and an animation studio we have up here!!! How challenging it is for a designer/animator to find a job where you’re respected for your time and energy, with mental health taken into consideration!!! Plus housing!!! There is NO WAY I can provide for my family.

    Plus there are our homeless elders who prefer privacy, a quiet home, and a safe space! My grandmother felt unsafe staying at the elder’s facility. Someone was found dead RIGHT outside. They deserve SO much more, especially after all they’ve been through. The racism and constant trauma many have experienced their whole lives.

  5. Posted by Peter thomas on

    An excellent article that looks at the issue from different perspectives. In nunavik we have the same issue although we seem to have money 125 million for high speed internet cable which would build alot of houses. To have internet access is good but it is not a necessity whic

    • Posted by Give me a break on

      What different perspective are you talking about? It’s the exact same perspective we hear over and over…

  6. Posted by Putuguk on

    It is high time that Nunavummuit start asking different questions about Housing. This is especially true for someone taking legal training where critical thinking is emphasized.

    The issue is not how the Government of Nunavut can make its staff and public housing programs more effective, efficient and equitable. That is unfortunately not the game being played here. And, even if these goals were accomplished, this would not lead to solving our housing crisis.

    “The System” – the approach civil servants take to continue the practice of expending significant public funds to directly chip away at our staff and public housing needs has survived all changes in government since the creation of Nunavut. That is a big part of our current problem.

    Aim 1. Get as much tax money as possible from Ottawa through perpetuated demonstrated need. Its about running our government like a 3rd world charity, not about actually addressing the needs of voters and local taxpayers. Ask Africa how they have made out with all the charity money they have ever received.
    Aim 2. Treat the citizens of Nunavut like children, incapable of meeting their own needs, thereby maintaining the requirement for civil servants (NHC, CHAs, the whole apparatus) to deal with the problem.
    Aim 3. Maximize the financial benefit from housing programs for southern suppliers, territorial property management firms and local general contractors.

    As you can see, a house available to buy or rent for a newly minted Nunavut Lawyer does not make the top 3 list of actual outcomes of our existing Nunavut housing programs.

    The real question ought to be is how the Government of Nunavut shifting its efforts towards private home ownership, besides passing on the Canada wide insufficient CMHC supports for new owners.

    Where is the old Homeownership Assistance Program? Where are the government interventions with Nunavut’s commercial banks to support increased bank financing? Can there be a role for the NBCC and Atuqtuarvik Corp carved out to address this? Where is the partnership with NTI or the RIAs to support young Inuit families owning their own homes? Where is the home ownership and construction innovations (invitations for underwritten private subdivision development, Strata detached housing supports, funding for granny suites, you name it.)

    If we do not start demanding answers to these sorts of questions, the answer to the original question will always and evermore be that there is not enough A base funding for the staff and public housing needs of Nunavut.

    • Posted by Why u dum on

      You ask a lot of good questions. To answer most of them, there is no one to help with the forms from the last century, that is right last century. There is no help because G.N never updates anything, they are using numbers from 2009 or 1999.

      Questions answered?

  7. Posted by Colin on

    [Re-send corrected]

    In the IODE Hall in Apex, in July 1964 Prime Minster Lester Pearson promised that the government of Canada would do all it could to help Inuit.

    Let’s compare what’s happened in multilingual multi-ethnic Singapore, a real Third World country at independence in 1965.

    Premier Lee began a 10-year housing program for 60,000 Malays living in Asian slum like what you see in the movie Slum Dog. He combined this program with intensive education. By the 1990s children of relocates were doing postgraduate degrees in architecture and physics in England and the United States.

    Today people in Singapore are wealthier than Canadians. And by the way, the schools function only in English even as people retain their native languages in the home and when doing business with their own people.

    And by another way, Prime Minster Trudeau promised to close the gap between Indigenous peoples and his much-vaunted Middle Class!

  8. Posted by Adult Educator on

    Good Points wrote “There are about 50 jobs posted on the GN job board where you would qualify and get guaranteed housing.”
    There are about 50 job postings and most of them do include housing. But if you actually read the postings you discover that most of them have specific academic requirements AND most of them require several years of job-specifc employment experience.
    The GN ususally looks for employees who have already been doing the job elsewhere and can “hit the ground running.”
    There was one posting a few months ago that was very different. It had no education requirement and only minimal experience requirement. There were six (6) openings and they all came with GN housing. The positions were at the hosiptal in Iqaluit. They were looking to hire cleaners.

    While housing is a huge issue in Nunavut, an even bigger issue is the lack of entry level trainee positions.
    After you complete your formal schooling (high school, Arctic College, or down south) you almost always have to get a job down south to get the experience you need in order to “screen in” for a posted GN job.
    The author of the letter needs to Article at a law firm for a couple of years before being able to be admidded to the Nunavut Bar and being able to practice law in Nunavut.
    How many Articling positions are there in Nunavut? I think there is only one. So what will the rest of the graduating class do?
    I’m reminded of the situation about 10 years ago when Arctic College graduated 20 students in Social Work. Except, the GN created no positions for them. After spending millions of dollars to educate those Nunavummiut, it hired none of them!
    If I were the Pemier of Nunavut I’d heed the words of our first Premier. “Every position is a training position.”
    It follows that every supervisor must be a trainer.
    I would send half the Deputy Ministers to university to earn Masters degrees in Adult Education, while having the other DMs work double duty. then I’d have them switch.
    When all Deputy Ministers were also adult educators I’d have then educate those who report dirctly to them – teaching both the job tasks and also Adult Education.
    DMs teach ADMs, ADMs teach Directors, Directors teach Supervisors.
    Once all those in supervisory roles know how to teach aduts, it will be time to create lots of trainee positions and offer jobs to all Inuit who want jobs.
    Yes, High School is necessary.
    Yes, College or University is necessary.
    Yes, housing is necessary.
    Yes, assistance with elininating the handicap associated with a prison record is necessary.
    But so to are the trainee positions and the trainers to make that training effective.
    It would require a complete culture shift.
    But this is the only way the GN could achieve 85% Inuit employment within 10 years.

    • Posted by Outside the metal box on

      Your points might sound good on the surface, but is it realistic to expect all our DM’s to achieve an MA in Education? Is that even efficient when most are working in fields other than education? I don’t think so. Though I agree the value of a good education is paramount.
      Having to work and earn experience in the south is, in my opinion, a good thing. For better or ill our institutions are modelled on their southern counterparts, let’s create connections to those institutions and send our aspiring lawyers and other professionals on work and supplemental educational terms so they can hopefully learn best practices.

    • Posted by Also an Educator on

      Your point sounds good on the surface, but is it realistic to expect all our DM’s to achieve an MA in Education? Is that even efficient when most are working in fields other than education? I don’t think so. Though I agree the value of a good education is paramount.
      In my opinion having to work and earn experience in the south is a net good. For better or ill our institutions are modelled on their southern counterparts. Let’s create connections to those institutions and send our aspiring lawyers and other professionals on work and supplemental educational terms so they can hopefully learn best practices and gain valuable insight into their professions drawn from a broader range of experiences.

  9. Posted by Jeff on

    Nailed it putuguk,too much real sense here and the civil servants, mla’s cannot cope with what you say. Too bad it makes perfect sense ,and the nhc board will read this and not do a thing to do this.but wait let’s do another housing strategy, and take 2 years to do it and tell the public,

  10. Posted by Hunter on

    There are a lot of important points in this letter and it is very well written. However, there is a disconnect between the author’s situation and the majority of Nunavummiut.
    There is a great proportion of the workforce who do not have staff housing or social housing. Many rent privately and have roommates. There are options in between subsidized housing and homelessness that the author seems to gloss over.
    We need more housing stock period. If anything, we need to increase the amount of private housing and reduce our collective dependence on staff housing as it drives the inflated rent and housing prices in this town.
    I much preferred MLA Lightstone’s approach. That staff housing should be seen as transitionary and prioritized as a non-cash benefit for employees with lower salaries. We have too many people making over $100k in staff housing. As a soon to be lawyer, the author seems to want themselves included in that when any salary in those ranges is more than enough to rent privately including living with a roommate.

  11. Posted by Name withheld on

    NHC would rather spend money on useless calendars and hire contractors to do survey for them to provide the % of their annual report, Hire non- beneficiaries.. Please see their job advertisement — Clearly states “open to all “ if it says that no beneficiary has a chance.. It’s the same for QEC… I think in reality it’s only NAC that promotes article 23

    So in reality a beneficiary has no chance of getting a good paying job with staff housing. And I agree with Marley 100% and I’m very impress with your story!! Quana

  12. Posted by suliju on

    Good article. Thank you for shedding light on this.

    First step: review the support given to GN Staff Housing. ie. approx cost/unit for an employee? (don’t forget it is NON Taxable support!)

    Compare to what homeowners are given. ZERO if you are not a GN employee. $400/m Taxable if an employee.

    Then please answer the question, when was the LAST TIME GN STAF HOUSING RATES WERE INCREASED? Compare this to when the last increases were, and ongoing, for all costs for homeowners.

    Can anyone provide the answers? Then to start to equalize this unfairness.

    • Posted by Jeannie Me on

      Interesting. I would like to hear more about this too. Who can provide this?

      Compare the date of GN staff housing rental increase vs increases homeowners pay.

      Also the various differences in community costs such as power but also sealift, contractors.

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