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Housing minister calls for aid from Nunavut Inuit org.

Nunavut’s housing minister is calling on the territorial Inuit organization to aid the government’s “serious housing crisis.”

Corporation has $100 million in carry-forward capital

Patterk Netser, the minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, says Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated could help the government solve a housing crisis. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Nunavut's housing minister is calling on a territorial Inuit organization to come to the government's aid in solving a "serious housing crisis."

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) belongs to beneficiaries, said Patterk Netser, the minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, in the legislature Friday. 

"I'd like to call out to NTI. Help us. We need your help. You have a healthy surplus, as you indicated recently," he said. 

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated represents Inuit in Nunavut. In October, it announced a milestone financial year.

"Our people are in severe need ... the beneficiaries of whom we are responsible for," Netser said.

His statement came after a question from Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak-Lightstone on alternative housing options. 

Arreak-Lightstone said he agrees with the minister's request for help from the Inuit organization. But, he wants to know if the housing corporation will commit to a pilot study for affordable housing, using modular or prefabricated construction. 

Netser said he is open to idea, but that the Nunavut Housing Corporation is doing this kind of research already.

Earlier in the sitting, Netser said requests for proposals from 2017 show that conventional builds are more cost-effective right now.

Modular talk carries on

Ministers and MLAs have been talking in the house about a hotel built in Iqaluit using modular technology. Community and Government Services Minister Lorne Kusugak said modular and prefabricated construction would reduce jobs for Inuit in Nunavut. 

But the builder, the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, said it was able to employ many Inuit workers in the hotel's construction.

And Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said Friday that conventional construction projects use a lot of transient labour.

These workers live in bunkhouses and fly in groceries, he said. This leaves little economic footprint in the territory.

"Advocating for local employment isn't just good politics," he said. "It makes good economic sense." 

Main asked the corporation to "crunch the numbers" to find out how much money is going out of Nunavut through the hiring of southern labour.

A written response from the housing corporation, tabled earlier in the sitting, cites a shortage of local contractors as a bottleneck for building houses in Nunavut.

MLA Arreak-Lightstone said the focus should be on building homes for homeless families more quickly — even if that comes at the expense of Inuit employment. 

"When I think of those individuals, I think they don't really care how much and what employment there was in the construction of their units," Arreak-Lightstone said. "I just think that they want to have a home."

MLA Adam Arreak-Lightstone says he is alarmed by carry over budgets in the Nunavut Housing Corporation. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Annual carry-over funds exceed $100M

The housing corporation is waiting right now for MLAs to approve its draft capital budget for the 2020-2021 financial year.

But MLAs stalled that budget over financial communication. One of their concerns was about the amount of unspent money the housing corporation carries over each year.

In a nine-page letter (the same written response that touched on labour challenges), the Nunavut Housing Corporation explains why it is currently carrying over more money each year in funding than it spends. 

The letter shows that in 2018-2019, the housing corporation had a capital budget of just under $43 million for public housing. The corporation actually spent roughly $50 million, but at the end of that fiscal year, it carried more than $68 million in funds forward.

For this current fiscal year, the capital budget was almost $80 million, with more than $106 million carried over from the previous year. Project expenditure is estimated at just $94 million.

Arreak-Lightstone, who asked to see those housing financials tabled, said the numbers left him in disbelief.

"It is alarming when I see departments recycling budgets, and you don't see much variation from one year to the next," he said, "although the actual expenditures have a considerable amount of fluctuation."

According to the Nunavut Housing Corporation, these numbers are because of one-time, bulk federal funding. The letter says it takes about two years to start using an influx of funds. 

"The [Nunavut Housing Corporation] only plans capital projects based on predictable amounts," the letter states. "The nature of [housing corporation's] unpredictable funding level leads to cautious planning."

The Nunavut Housing Corporation is choosing not to speak with media about the capital budget or carry-forward funds until after its 2020-2021 capital estimates come back up in the legislature.

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