Contractor shortage stalls Nunavut housing repairs

In Nunavut there are millions of dollars in repairs needed in public housing units, but the cost is not the biggest issue... it's finding the contractors to do the work.
The Nunavut Housing Corporation say it needs to complete $60 million in repairs, but it can't find the contractors to do the work.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation has $15 million of maintenance on the go  everything from new coats of paint to new roofs  but it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $60 million in repairs that need to be done.

Some repairs to public housing units have sat on its to-do list for years.

The NHC’s Lori Kimball says it’s not simply a budget issue.

One of the reasons for the delays is finding a contractor willing to do the work.

“There are a lot of things going on in Nunavut and certainly new construction is more profitable than doing repair work. It's less attractive to do some of these smaller jobs than it is to do, say, an $8 million school build or something like that,” Kimball says.

In some communities, like Gjoa Haven, Whale Cove and Clyde River, there are no local contractors to do repair work.

Repair costs there are whatever contractors will bid on a project.

In one example, the lowest bid to do weather-stripping on one unit — a simple process of sealing doors and windows from the elements — was $5,000.

Allan Mullin manages a construction company in Iqaluit, and has built in many communities.

But he says the cost of flying in workers, the tools and building material, plus hotels, meals and overtime, racks up fast.

"Doing small repairs can be expensive here and also you'll have to wait,” Mullin says.

"If your door got blown in or your window or the roof partially blown off or something happens in your house and you need it done and it's a small thing, a few hours or a day’s work, you'll have to wait sometimes around here."

For now the Housing Corp is trying to entice contractors to smaller communities by rolling several jobs into one trip.

They also encourage people to start-up their own repair businesses.

But even if the tradespeople were to materialize, the NHC isn’t in a position to catch up on repairs right away.

“At our current funding levels, assuming we were able to get contractors, it would still take us about six years to bring everything to 100 per cent,” Kimball says.