Inuit Nunangat Housing Strategy offers little hope

“No one makes any concrete commitment to spend any money, perform any actions or build any houses”

Social housing units under construction in Kuujjuaq in 2015. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

It’s not hard to understand why, after throwing it out into the world last week, they fled the scene under the protective cover of a late evening press release and a barrage of fawning Facebook selfies.

The stench of futility given off by the Inuit Nunangat Housing Strategy, “co-developed” by the Government of Canada and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and released this past April 3, is so strong it’s hard to blame its creators for doing a dump-and-run.

If you don’t trust that judgment, we’ve embedded a copy of the strategy at the bottom of this editorial so you can read it for yourself.

You’ll see that within the document, which bears the logos of Canada and ITK, no one makes any concrete commitment to spend any money, perform any actions or build any houses.

If this were some other issue, it wouldn’t matter. Governments and quasi-government organizations often emit policy documents that nobody reads and nobody acts on.

But housing is not a trivial issue. Northern Canada’s severe housing shortage sits at the centre of a grave humanitarian crisis, linked to deteriorating mental health, poor outcomes in school and recent frightening outbreaks of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases.

The housing strategy acknowledges that, of course, and gathers together various assemblages of other long-recognized facts that, while valid, have been repeated so often that they’re now turning into tiresome clichés.

What it does not offer is any hope for the future, especially in Nunavut, which suffers from the highest proportion of Inuit living in overcrowded homes (56.4 per cent), the highest proportion of Inuit living in homes that require repairs (34.3 per cent), and the highest number of total units required to meet the existing housing shortfall (3,500, at an estimated capital cost of $1.7 billion).

Vague platitudes

Instead, the federal government and on the four regional Inuit organizations heap praise upon themselves for things they did between 2016 and 2018. But for the future, they offer vague platitudes and not much else.

Take, for example, one of the lesser-known but more serious aspects of the housing crisis: the skyrocketing cost of operating and maintaining existing stocks of social housing.

Late last month, Terry Audla, the president of the Nunavut Housing Corp., told the Baffin region’s mayors that the cost of maintaining and operating a single social housing unit in Nunavut now averages $26,700 a year.

This means that if the NHC were a private landlord, it would be required to charge an annual average rent of at least $2,200 a month, and likely more, just to break even. Those staggering costs, which include fuel, power, garbage pickup, water and sewage and building maintenance, aren’t news by the way.

They’ve been known for years. In the territories, the governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have been getting an annual subsidy from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. to help cover them. But that subsidy contains a poisoned pill. Since 2004, that subsidy has been slowly shrinking. And by 2037, it will have shrunk to zero.

The strategy acknowledges this, and says what everyone in the field has known for years, that declining operation and maintenance funds will cause territorial housing agencies “to direct more of their own funding to existing units as opposed to building much needed new ones.”

The strategy’s solution, however, is vacuous, to say the least: “However, it is expected that through bilateral agreements to be in place in 2019, provincial and territorial governments will commit to preserve and expand the number of community housing units in their respective jurisdiction.”

What agreements? Between who and whom? Given that provincial and territorial governments are not parties to the Inuit Nunangat Housing Strategy, and that these “agreements” haven’t been signed yet, this claim must be treated with the utmost skepticism.

No clear commitment to build

OK. We’ve bored you long enough about evaporating O&M funds.

Let’s turn to the questions that matter most to those who don’t have housing. How many more units? Where and when will they be built?

On that point, the strategy heaps lavish praise on the Liberal government and on Inuit organizations for their recent construction commitments—even if none of them have ever seen a credible third-party evaluation.

These projects, using federal dollars committed in the 2016 and 2018 Liberal budgets, have produced 144 units in Nunavik built by Makivik Corp.’s in-house construction firm, 24 units built in Nunatsiavut by the Nunatsiavut government, and 15 units in the Inuvialuit settlement area.

It does contain one interesting idea: that Inuit organizations may get involved directly in housing construction and in the management of housing. That’s a refreshing change of attitude.

But what will they do in the future? On that, the housing strategy, unfortunately, offers little more than fog and obfuscation.

In Nunavut, for example, the strategy admits that past Liberal spending commitments on social housing construction—$76.7 million over two years starting in 2016, and $240 million over 10 years starting in 2017—fall far short of what is required.

So the strategy’s authors tell us Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the three regional associations in Nunavut want to create an “Inuit designed and delivered, long term affordable housing program.” The strategy says this would encourage homeownership and “complement” the housing corporation’s current offerings.

So who would pay to construct these “Inuit designed and delivered” housing units and how much would they pay? No answer. How many of these units would the Inuit organizations build and where would they build them? No answer. Who would subsidize their operation and maintenance costs? No answer.

The strategy does say the Inuit-run housing program in Nunavut would involve a combination of private financing and a “complementary allocation” from government, without specifying which government. But don’t hold your breath. This is not a commitment that any thoughtful person ought to trust.

Meanwhile, the Liberal government led by His Esteemed Awesomeness, Saint Justin of Papineau, is headed for an ignominious defeat. The departure of two of that government’s most respected ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, coupled with Trudeau’s incompetent, mendacious response to Canada’s worse political scandal in at least two decades, has, in the eyes of many Canadians, destroyed his credibility and moral authority.

National opinion polls, including CBC’s poll tracker, suggest that if an election were held right now, Andrew Scheer’s Conservative party would, at the very least, form a minority government, with the New Democratic Party holding the balance of power.

That means last week’s dubious housing strategy, along with other more substantial products of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, now sit on a shaky foundation anyway. The Inuit organizations who participate in that process should put away their souvenir selfies with Saint Justin and start building bridges with NDP and Conservative leaders. JB

2019 Inuit Nunangat Housing... by on Scribd

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(22) Comments:

  1. Posted by Candace on

    I’ve scanned the strategy and it is scant on the “how” of it all. I’m also not sure that it addresses the need for municipal services upgrades. Any strategy for increasing housing in Nunavut hamlets (or Iqaluit) should include some allocation for municipal utilities upgrades to meet increased demand for sewage and water services.

  2. Posted by Ice cold dove on

    If Nunatsiaq news has problems with irrelevant comments to certain articles they publish, then remove only those comments that are out of line with their issues. There are more important matters than being pro-advanced civilities you pat yourself with…

  3. Posted by Concerned Inuk on

    With housing such a crisis in Inuit communities, you’d think Inuit organizations and politicians would make it a priority, but Inuit at the community level get the representation that they get based on who they’ve put into office to represent them!

    • Posted by PLANNER on

      The big problem here is people refuse to apply family planning.
      My partner and myself decided to have 4 children, whereas
      our siblings have an average of 10 children per family,and
      their life is complaining about housing, or begging money to
      feed the kids. Fair enough so be it.
      It ain’t rocket science, the choice is yours !

  4. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    The Trudeau Government must’ve partnered with ITK to develop the strategy so it won’t have to fund the actual construction of the aforementioned housing needs. ITK is just an advocacy group, not in the business of building houses. It doesn’t bind any government to take on building houses. Just another example of how Trudeau really ‘cares’ about the North. ITK should just stick to advocating for Inuit Nunangat and not come to agreements with the feds or partner with them to come up with strategies. How can they advocate for Inuit rights at arms-length when it partners with the one Government they should be focusing their advocacy efforts?

  5. Posted by Tommy on

    Epic fail in the making. ITK raised all in at the Liberal table. They will have nothing to start with on the next table. Human indignation continues.

  6. Posted by Tony on

    A strategy document is a high level effort – to criticise it as if it was an implementation plan or signed agreement between GN and Ottawa on funding levels is misguided and does no one any good.

    That ITK (the 4 regions) and the feds have agreed to a common agreed upon approach is a milestone. Coupled with other actions that place ITK front and centre as the entity representing Inuit interests to Canada in Ottawa on a day to day basis means Inuit have boots on the ground to deal with strategies and policies.

    If you don’t like strategy documents but are more comfortable with tactical plans wait for the next stages. It doesn’t mean don’t be cautious just that criticising a strategy document because its not a tactical document is like criticising a zebra for not being a horse.

  7. Posted by Socrates on

    It brings me great pleasure to see the Sophists at ITK being called out on their flowery and largely empty rhetoric.

  8. Posted by mayD on

    The feds transferred 1.6Billion to GN for 2019. Average amount per citizen just over 46,000.00. There was also additional funds sent for housing. The federal government sends the dollars but it is the GN who is responsible for doing the work and from what I see they don’t do a very good job. Feds do not build housing anywhere in this country. Also, the only scandal regarding SNC is the media blowing this so out of proportion it is ridiculous. Nothing illegal took place and if JWR was so upset she should have come forward in the fall when it was all taking place. Instead she waited until she was shuffled to another portfolio..seems like sour grapes to me.

  9. Posted by credit where credit is due on

    It strikes me that some of the comments above fail to grasp the challenge of running a national indigenous representative organization like ITK. The national Inuit leadership has no option but to dance with whichever government is in office. Given the promises that the Trudeau government made during the campaign that elected them, it only made sense to take them at their word and engage with them in ways that might ‘deliver the goods’ for Inuit across the country. The fact that Trudeau and Bennett have largely failed to deliver on their promises is not the fault of the national Inuit leadership. Progress has varied from topic to topic. ITK has made great progress (including in obtaining funding) for suicide prevention, a topic that the feds have historically been useless on. ITK appears to have played its cards well re: tuberculosis, child protection and language rights. Housing is a different matter. The housing file is a quite different, as addressing the social housing crisis will require significant federal investment. To blame ITK for this not having happened yet makes about as much sense as blaming the GN. Both ITK and the GN have no option but to keep pushing the feds. ITK is not in the business of building houses, so it should come as no surprise that its contribution is at the high-end policy level. It has to keep the lines of communication open, and keep communicating the urgent need for federal investment. I’m sure that the national Inuit leadership would have preferred to release a more concrete strategy, and no doubt they would have if they could have. But let’s be clear- the problem here is the federal government, not ITK.

    • Posted by Concerned Inuk on

      So you don’t think ITK plays any role in keeping the federal government accountable and ensuring it fulfills the promises made to Inuit?

      Overcrowded housing is one of the main contributors if not the main contributor to the ongoing TB crisis. An apology is nice, but an apology alone won’t stop the spread of TB in Inuit communities.

      • Posted by credit where credit is due on

        Yes, of course ITK — which I prefer to think of as the national Inuit leadership, as the Board includes the Presidents of the four regional land claim corporations — plays a role in keeping the federal government accountable and ensuring it fulfills the promises made to Inuit. A key role. And yes, of course overcrowded social housing is a critical ‘social determinant of health’ in Inuit Nunangat. Perhaps you think ITK should have refused to issue a ‘co-created’ document with the feds? That would have been one possible approach. Another approach would have been to issue a blistering press release slamming the Liberals for failing to address what we all know is a social emergency. The national Inuit leadership decided on a different approach to the feds in this regard, and only time will tell if it bears fruit. I see no reason for optimism. The last sentence of Jim Bell’s editorial is prescient — there may be a minority government come October, with the NDP holding the balance of power regardless of whichever right-wing party (the bad one or the worse one) wins the most seats. It’s time to make it clear to both the NDP and the Greens how serious the housing situation in Inuit Nunangat is, and seek their commitment to do everything they can to ensure that significant investment is made in the next budget.

        • Posted by Not Even on

          If you read the article you will see this, in reference to the ‘housing strategy: “It does contain one interesting idea: that Inuit organizations may get involved directly in housing construction and in the management of housing. That’s a refreshing change of attitude.”

          ITK is good at vague platitudes and vacuous rhetoric, very good. So I can see why you would suggest they write a ‘scathing letter of rebuke’. Another pointless exercise that puts their limitations on full display.They are not so good at actually accomplishing tangible results.

  10. Posted by Bring back 512s on

    There’s not enough money for housing. Everybody knows that.
    But NHC isn’t doing as much as they can with the money they have. You can’t be spending $450,000 per unit on social housing, even here.
    Also have to agree with PLANNER. Young adults with no house and no career are having way too many kids with no financial plan, it just can’t be supported.

    • Posted by the critical question on

      If Trudeau and Morneau could suddenly find $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan, why would should we accept the suggestion that “there’s not enough money for housing”?

      • Posted by Critical answer on

        Monies spent on a pipeline will be recuperated and can be seen as an investment (whether we agree with the pipeline or not). Monies spent on housing now lock governments into a perpetual cycle of spending on several levels. 1. Those houses need to be maintained in perpetuity. 2. The expectation that more housing will follow disincentives better solutions, which are necessary.

        • Posted by critical question on

          At this point in Nunavut’s development there is no alternative to significantly increased federal expenditure on social housing in Nunavut. The social implications of a continued failure to address the social housing crisis are too dreadful to contemplate.

          • Posted by Critical answer on

            The question doesn’t really hinge on the importance of addressing the problem. It’s obviously a critical issue. The question is who is going to deal with it and how are they going to do it? Why assume the federal government can or will solve it?

  11. Posted by time to stop on

    Eventually, the government will say, do it yourself. Your land, your money, your families…it might be time to educate your children, so that maybe one day they can support themselves without relying on someone else to do it for them.
    Concerning the kids, if you cannot support them, don’t have them. It isn’t fair to the kids to be a number in a welfare system…is it?

  12. Posted by Putuguk on

    In 1992, the Federal government started to dismantle its role in building, maintaining and financing social housing across Canada.

    Hello People! that was over a quarter of a century ago, before most Nunavummuit were even born. Successive governments of both blue and red stripes have stuck to this general stance.

    A light-bulb should have gone on – the gravy train is over, and that we now have to move heaven and earth towards home ownership.

    Since then, all that has been done is to try to buck the tides of change and secure crisis-driven one off deals to keep us barely functioning.

    To make matters worse, GN has held on to staff housing, got rid of HAP, and reduced first time home buyers to CMHC minimums instead.

    Playing Santa Claus with other people’s money when you can, pointing fingers to others when you can’t, is much too convenient.

    ITK is no different. We are to remain here believing as an article of faith that the tap to the magic money hose will soon be turned on for us.

    Print out, single sided, this new housing strategy. Crumple it up, and place it next to your toilet so that you can make productive use of the paper.

    What I would like to know is this: chartered banks in Nunavut – what is the current value of the deposits you hold in the territory compared to the mortgages you have let out? I bet the answer would be illuminating and spark a more useful discussion.

  13. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Housing is and will probably remain an ongoing issue for two reasons;

    First, as mentioned above, are people having children that they cannot support. I will grant that part of this is cultural as a high birth rate was previously required due to high infant mortality, high mortality rates (diseases, accidents, predation, even starvation), and short lifespans. With settlements that has largely changed, although new obstacles have arisen (high suicide rates, addictions).

    Second, analyze any society and their housing comes from their environment.. Thatched huts, to sod houses, to mud brick, to granite blocks. Take a look at London, in fact large portions of Europe and the construction material is stone. Does it really make sense to send wood up to the Arctic? Let’s figure out a way to use naturally occurring building materials.

  14. Posted by Silenced on

    “Join the Conversation”

    I sure wish I could…
    So you will have to use your imagination to imagine the unimaginable.

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