Nunavut MLAs delay vote on social housing spending
“We have to make decisions knowing we have good information”
Nunavut MLAs have deferred approval of the Nunavut Housing Corp.’s $43-million capital budget for the coming fiscal year, following disputes over the accuracy of the data used to determine where the territory’s next social housing units will be built.
Of the Nunavut Housing Corp.’s budget, $17 million from the Government of Nunavut is earmarked for new construction.
During committee of the whole on Tuesday, Oct. 22, Aggu MLA Paul Quassa said that the number of residents in his hometown of Igloolik on the waitlist for social housing is greater than the number reported by the housing corporation. He said he learned as much after visiting his local housing association and seeing the waitlist.
“I don’t think I can approve this budget with these numbers,” he said.
Patterk Netser, the minister responsible for the housing corporation, said the waitlist numbers come from the local housing organizations’ reports as of March 31, 2019, and are not current numbers.
Terry Audla, the president and CEO of the Nunavut Housing Corp., said that the housing corporation then vets this information to ensure there aren’t overlaps in applications, and that this takes considerable time.
That waitlist is then calculated as a percentage of the existing housing stock in the community. So, if a community has a current stock of 2,500 units and a waitlist of 1,000 units, its need is 40 per cent, according to the Nunavut Housing Corp.’s 2017-18 annual report.
Any community above 40 per cent is deemed in critical need of housing—that year, there were 11 communities in that situation.
A construction plan is then developed based on where the need is greatest among the communities, but this won’t be publicly available until the budget is approved.
“We use this methodology. We believe it is adequate and we will continue to use it,” Netser said.
“The communities who have the most people on the waiting list are given priority.”
But John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, said he shared Quassa’s concerns that housing needs were being misrepresented.
“The numbers for housing are not accurate,” he said.
He too offered the example of the waitlist in Igloolik, which went down by about 90 units from 2018-2019.
“I don’t believe the housing corp. has built 90 units,” he said.
He recommended the housing corporation adjust its construction plans to reflect communities’ current waitlists.
“You don’t have to change the budget,” Main said. “But if these adjustments aren’t going to be made, then I’ll echo my colleague’s comments that we have to make decisions knowing we have good information.”
While the methodology is good, he said, if it’s based on flawed numbers, the results don’t stand.
“When you have the numbers going up and down, it makes me wonder what’s happening behind those numbers?” he said.
Main made a motion to defer the vote on the housing corporation’s capital expenditures, which was seconded by Quassa.
Firing back at Main, Netser said since they began using the current method for determining housing allotments in 2013, his community has seen many new builds.
“We built a lot of houses in Arviat, last summer, of course, we completed 20 housing units,” Netser said. “I guess we made a mistake.”
David Qamaniq, MLA for Tununiq, suggested those arguing against the expenditure were doing so because they weren’t happy with the number of houses being built in their own communities.
“I’d like to note for the record that I am very appreciative of all the public housing units the housing corporation has built in my home community,” Main said. “We have to step beyond our own egos and our own little corner of the territory and look at the bigger picture.”
On the vote to defer, the committee was tied, with MLA Cathy Towtongie abstaining. Chairperson Pat Angnakak broke the tie in favour of deferral.
“It’s about trying to get to understand what the real picture is,” said Angnakak. “I vote in favour.”
A day after the meeting, a housing corp. spokesperson told Nunatsiaq News they did not expect the deferred vote to delay next year’s construction plans.
“Once the NHC has clarified the waitlist data with the members, we fully expect they will be in a position to approve our budget,” he said.
There was no immediate date set on when the capital expenditures will come back to committee of the whole. Two weeks remain in the fall sitting.