Federal ministers offer no clear answer to Senate call to fix Inuit housing crisis
'Business as usual ... is not going to address the gap,' minister tells Senate committee
The northern housing crisis is a $10-billion problem at least — and that's being conservative, said Jane Philpott, minister of Indigenous Services.
Philpott spoke at a Senate committee meeting Wednesday to discuss the government's response to the report "We Can Do Better: Housing in Inuit Nunangat," which examines the unsafe housing conditions of Inuit living in Nunavut, Nunavik, the Inuvialuit region of the N.W.T., as well as Nunatsiavut, N.L.
Speaking to the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Philpott said the federal government allotted $80 million in the 2016 budget to address the issue, including $50 million for Nunavik, $15 million for Nunatsiavut and $15 million for the Inuvialuit region — given directly to governments and Inuit land claim organizations.
She also referenced $97 million given over two years to territories through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Commission's Investment in Affordable Housing initiative and $10.7 million over two years to implement renewable energy products in off-grid communities that rely on diesel to generate heat and power.
But Philpott admitted it's not enough, especially considering the growing Inuit population.
"Continuing with business as usual, even better business than usual, is not going to address the gap," she said. "There are a number of keys to success and it's going to require a completely different way of looking at how we address housing gaps."
Some of those keys issues include long-term funding, innovative models for financing and supporting the development of institutions, Philpott said.
Another issue discussed at the meeting is the amount of time it's going to take to see substantial change in these communities.
Construction a challenge
Philpott said Nunavik will build approximately 144 new homes with its $50 million share of housing money, and in Nunatsiavut, she said multi-unit complexes are being built with its $15 million, but did not say how many.
According to "We Can Do Better," Nunavik alone needs 1,030 housing units immediately "to address the shortage of adequate housing" and as of 2012, 196 families in Nunatsiavut were in need of housing.
Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of families, children and social development, said Nunavik, the Inuvialuit region and Nunatsiavut are in charge of building and renovating homes in difficult Northern regions.
"They make, I think, the most effective use of the resources [available]," he said.
"Keeping in mind that speed is often at the cost of quality in the housing sector. And given the fact, as we all know, in the North construction and renovation take both good planning and time."
The ministers did not say when they think the housing gap could be closed, but Philpott admitted "we not only can do better, we must do better."
The Senate committee wasn't convinced that would happen anytime soon.
"The projects that you've talked about and pointed to here, I don't think are even going to keep us even — nevermind deal with — the 3,000 [houses needed]," said Senator Scott Tannas.