No room at the inn for expectant couple
IQALUIT — David Smith says he’s angry and broken-hearted because of the housing shortage in Iqaluit.
Smith, 24, and his girlfriend Jen Donald, 19, (not their real names) are expecting a baby in a month, and are considering giving the child up for adoption because they can’t find an apartment to rent.
“It’s creating a mental sickness in both of us. To watch a baby grow for nine months and have to say goodbye because there’s no housing just doesn’t make sense,” Smith said this week.
Another option is to move south where housing is more readily available and cheaper, he admitted, but it’s something he wants to avoid.
“This is her land, her culture,” Smith said. “We move down south and she has to come back up here. It’s home to me too. I’ve accepted a lifetime here, but a family in a room just doesn’t make sense.”
Donald is from Iqaluit and Smith drives a cab for Nunavut Toutoune Cabs. He’s been here two years. Donald is renting a 10- x 5-foot room in Apex for $800 a month, a space that will feel smaller once the baby comes.
Smith spends 17 hours a day driving his cab.
The couple is trying to find an appropriate spot to move to and raise their child, but their hope is waning.
“There is nowhere else even to look. I’m angry and broken-hearted at the same time,” an exasperated Smith said. “Angry at the town for being so disoriented, and broken-hearted because I don’t think I can go through with (giving up the baby for adoption).”
Smith and Donald aren’t the only ones in Iqaluit facing dire housing needs.
Susan Spring, manager of the Iqaluit Housing Authority, said there are currently 65 applications for public housing on file, the first 39 of which are requests for bachelor or one-bedroom units.
“I think it’s going to get worse,” she said. “We’re seeing it grow and grow. At one point last year we had 80-some applications on the waiting list. We got 12 new housing units and people who fail to respond, have their names taken off the list.”
People applying for housing are told to expect a wait of 18-24 months.
“Public housing is full. We have two units now that are down from fire damage, we have one unit that is down with a frozen sewage main,” she said. “Sometimes it moves faster or slower. It depends on what’s happening.”
Only when someone leaves for a government job, leaves the community, is incarcerated, or dies, do units open up.
Spring explained that all applicants are a priority and are scored on need, which is assessed on information given to the authority.
Everyone is classified according to a national system, for example, husbands and wives sharing a bedroom, and children not sharing a bedroom with their parents. After classification, an applicant is placed on a list for an appropriately sized apartment.
Spring said the situation in Iqaluit is frustrating.
“Our job is to house people and we just don’t have enough houses,” she exclaimed. “Eighteen months is a long time and some people wait much longer than that.”
She said last year’s 12 new two-bedroom units were the first new construction since 1993, when the inventory in Iqaluit stayed the same while the population continued to grow.
“For anyone who’s on bachelor or one-bedroom lists there’s been no movement there for years and years and years,” she said, in terms of new construction.
The housing authority also administers government leases in Iqaluit, of which there are more than 200, and she said a lot of that is new housing projects.
If people are employed, she said, all the authority can do is give them a list of landlords and a real estate agent to contact. If they are on income support they are referred to the income support office, which has a program of emergency housing.
If you are on the public housing list and can find a landlord to take you, they will subsidize your rent before you can get into public housing.
Smith said Donald has applied for income assistance, but was turned down because she used a plane ticket 27 days ago when she returned from a trip to Ottawa. That will make it even harder for her, as she can’t reapply until next month, he said.
“It’s the worst. What are we to do?” he asked, raising his hands in question. “I felt like I’d ruin her future if I brought her down south. Her friends and her family are here.”
Smith and Donald applied to Nunastar a couple of weeks ago and were recently told there were a large number of applicants ahead of them, Muir said, and that they would be renting out on a first-come, first-served basis.
Steve Cook, general manager of Nunastar, said they do have vacancies, but the units have to be renovated before people can move in. They are continually renovating, Cook explained, and as they are completed, people waiting for units are contacted.
“But we could probably meet anyone’s needs within about two weeks,” Cook said.
Nunastar has two high-rises and 92 units of row housing, totalling almost 300 units, from bachelors to four-bedrooms.
Cook said they always have a waiting list and try to be selective with tenants to consider neighbours, and require a credit check.
Prior to his current position Cook worked in the staff housing section of the government.
“I would say the steady growth of the government, trying to attain 100 per cent staffing in Iqaluit, has put pressure on the market, I presume since 1998,” he said. “Whether it has peaked is highly unlikely.”
He said in his opinion the situation may not get worse, though, because positions won’t necessarily be filled quickly.
“But I don’t think it’s going to get better over the short-term. It would appear that there’s more demand than supply,” he said.
And it’s the short term that’s worrying Smith. He said after much tearful discussion they’ve decided Donald will keep the baby even if there is no place to move, but they don’t feel a small room is the best place for a child to be raised.
“I’m left not knowing what to do, but this is a big cry of help to anyone (with a place to lease),” he said, adding “even a bigger, better room would be nice.”
Smith said maybe someone who is selling a house would be interested in leasing it before the sale goes through.
He said he’s approaching people he doesn’t even know to ask if they know anyone willing to rent to them.
“You wouldn’t believe the stress (we feel) every day,” he said.