New program to improve public housing system

Subsidies meant to tempt Nunavimmiut into home-ownership



Nunavik’s housing bureau hopes the affordable housing agreement signed by Quebec and the regional government last month will alleviate Nunavik’s continuing public housing crisis, but warns it will not be a quick-fix.

Watson Fournier, general director of the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau, said he expects 80 new houses to be constructed across the region by the time the two-year, $17.6-million program ends in 2005.

The Société d’habitation du Québec, with help from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Kativik Regional Government, signed the affordable housing agreement on March 21.

The agreement will subsidize 76.5 per cent, up to a fixed maximum amount, of the construction or purchase and renovation costs of a residence.

But with more than 400 families or individuals waiting for social housing units in Nunavik, Fournier said, the region must continue to press for federal and provincial help on the issue.

“At least with the affordable housing [program] there could be 80 families that could have their own home and free it up for other people. It’s one way to solve the problem,” Fournier said. “But, for sure, if we can continue to convince the government to fund the construction of social housing, that’s probably the one we have to work the hardest on.”

According to Fournier, the federal government provides Nunavik with money to build about 50 new social housing units each year. But this annual construction has not ended the region’s public housing shortfall.

“We’re not gaining and we’re not losing. The 400 people on the waiting list are a number we’ve been mentioning for five or six years and why doesn’t it change even though the population is growing? It’s because the 50 or so houses we build ever year is keeping it even,” Fournier said.

The federal program ends in 2004, and Fournier said he hopes negotiations for a future agreement will mean more annual construction.

In the meantime, Fournier said the new affordable housing program should free up 80 or so spaces over the next two years. But, he stressed, even with a generous incentive that subsidizes three-quarters of a building’s cost, the program is still not for everyone.

“Even though the subsidy will be around 76 per cent of the cost of the house, you still have the operating costs to consider. So with the mortgage you have left on the remaining 24 per cent, plus your regular operating costs, and municipal taxes, even though there’s a subsidy on that for the next 15 years, families would have to consider about $1,000 or $1,200 a month for their own house,” he said.

With the majority of Nunavimmiut living in social housing and paying roughly $300 each month for rent, the relatively high monthly costs of owning a private home may remain beyond reach for many.

Yet for some Nunavimmiut impending changes to the region’s rent scale may complicate their decision to stay in public housing or apply for the new home-ownership program.

The Quebec government has been pushing for changes to Nunavik’s social housing rates since the KMHB officially took over social housing from the provincial government in 2000. It wants Nunavik to adopt a rent scale that mirrors that of the rest of province.

Social housing tenants in other regions of Quebec must base their rental rates on their individual incomes. Their monthly payments are 25 per cent of their net earnings.

In Nunavik, social housing rates are determined according to the age and size of a housing unit, and whether the occupant receives social assistance. It does not take into account a renter’s individual earnings.

Fournier said changes to the social housing rent scale was likely occur in the next few years. He stressed however that the changes would happen gradually over a 5 to 7 year span. He also said Nunavik authorities are pressing the Quebec government to recognize the region’s unique situation.

The affordable housing program provides subsidies to aspiring private homeowners, developers and co-operatives.

The new housing program covers the purchase and construction of new residential buildings. It will also provide subsidies for purchasing and renovating existing buildings where renovation costs are at least $20,000 for each residential unit.

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