Nunavut government should build 100 units next year, task force says

Housing Minister Manitok Thompson’s task force on housing is recommending the construction of 100 new social housing units to be funded out Nunavut’s 2000-2001 budget.



IQALUIT — A task force set up by Nunavut Housing Minister Manitok Thompson wants the territorial government to build 100 new public housing units in Nunavut this summer at a cost of $15 million.

In an interim report released this week, Thompson’s housing task force recommends building 100 new two-bedroom duplexes out of money from the Nunavut Housing Corp.’s capital budget for 2000-2001.

Thompson appointed the seven-member task force this fall at the same time that she pledged to build new housing units next year.

The task force was asked to find solutions to Nunavut’s housing crisis and recommend how and where the government should build new housing units and.

More than 600 Nunavut families are now waiting lists for social housing.

Thompson commended the task force for its work and said the recommendation for building 100 new units next year is sound.

“This is the best we can do now with the money we have. It’s a good recommendation,” Thompson said.

MLA “disappointed”

But Arviat MLA Kevin O’Brien, the chair of the legislative assembly’s standing committee on community empowerment and sustainable development, said he is “somewhat disappointed” that the recommendations don’t include spending from the 1999-2000 budget.

“It’s obvious that the recommendations of the committee fell on deaf ears,” O’Brien said. “We were looking to have something this year, whether it be through the surplus, or some other dollars to purchase materials for next year.”

Last fall, O’Brien’s committee called on Thompson to tap into this year’s budget to buy supplies for 75 new units to be built next year.

The housing task force only recommends spending next year’s money on new construction.

O’Brien gave the minister “full credit” for taking action on the housing crisis, but he questioned whether there would have been any action if his standing committee hadn’t raised a red flag last fall.

The standing committee may make its own suggestions to the minister after it studies the report, O’Brien said.

The task force also recommends an extra $2 million a year be added to the housing corporation’s annual budget to cover operation and maintenance costs for the new units.

The task force recommends new units be allocated to communities according to the number of public housing tenants in each community.

If the scheme goes ahead as recommended, communities with the greatest numbers of public housing tenants would receive six units each. Communities with the fewest tenants would receive two new units each.

Thompson said the proposed allocation makes sense.

“You have to build something in every community and they’ve done a good job,” Thompson said.

A “drop in the bucket”

Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo, the chair of the task force, admitted that 100 units doesn’t go far enough, but he said he’s pleased each community will receive new units.

“It’s been seven years since any public housing has been built and I’m happy this puts something in every community,” Tootoo said.

The Nunavut government’s 1999-2000 budget had allocated $19 million for renovations, replacement building and home ownership programs, but no new social housing units were included.

Thompson will have to cut money from home ownership and repair programs that would normally be included in the 2000-2001 budget to put the recommendation into action. She said some money will be left over, but she couldn’t say how much.

“What we’re trying to do is please everyone, but our priority is social housing,” Thompson said, adding that fewer people are now able to benefit from home ownership programs.

Thompson believes she can get the money during deliberations for next year’s budget.

But even if the task force’s proposal gets the go-ahead, Thompson said 100 new units is just a “drop in the bucket.”

It would take $100 million to wipe out Nunavut’s waiting lists for social housing, Thompson estimates. And she says she must continue to lobby the federal government to come to Nunavut’s aid.

So far, Thompson has lobbied Nunavut MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell and other government officials. She also plans to meet with Alfonso Gagliano, the federal government’s public works minister .

“I’m trying to get the message across to the federal government,” she said.

Ottawa won’t pay

A recent federal document suggested Ottawa should not bail the territories out of their housing crises. But Thompson said she’s trying to show the federal government what Nunavut can and can’t do with its current budget.

The federal government stopped funding new social housing construction in the northern territories in 1993. That decision virtually put the brakes on all new construction.

Ottawa is also phasing out the money for the operation and maintenance of social housing units.

The task force’s interim report will be circulated through the standing committee on housing and cabinet. After that process Thompson said other recommendations may be considered.

The task force is expected to come out with a final report on March 31.

That report is expected to make recommendations on long-term issues including:

the rent scale;
housing program costs;
housing program revenues;
the role of the Nunavut Housing Corporation;
a needs analysis.

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