Iqaluit-Sinaa candidates look to tackle housing crisis

Candidates in the riding of Iqaluit-Sinaa point to housing as the pressing issue in their constituency.

Former Premier hopes to revive old building program from N.W.T. days

Four candidates are vying to be the MLA for Iqaluit-Sinaa this election. All of them are focusing on housing issues in their platforms. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Campaigning in one of Iqaluit's poorest neighbourhoods, the common thread among the Iqaluit-Sinaa candidates' platforms this election is housing.

Home to the majority of Iqaluit's public housing, Iqaluit-Sinaa was created as a brand new constituency last election.

Paul Okalik, an incumbent MLA, won with 46 per cent of the vote in 2013 — a year in which only half of the people on the voter list cast a ballot.

Seeking a fifth term in office, the former Nunavut premier — now 53 years old — is looking to the old days of the N.W.T. for a solution to Nunavut's housing crisis.

"There was a program called the [Homeownership] Assistance Program (HAP), where the government bought the materials and it was up to the individual who was going to own the home to construct it," Okalik said of his strategy to boost private home ownership, which he says will ease the stress on public housing.

"You see in our territory, there's no shortage of carpentry expertise. There's cabins everywhere on the land. So there's some expertise already there. Let's take advantage of it and support more housing in our territory."

Paul Okalik wants to revive an old N.W.T. program, in which the government bought materials for prospective homeowners, to build their own home. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

HAP ended in 1992. In its 10-year history, the program saw about 1,600 homes built across the N.W.T.

Nunavut tried a similar program in 2006 called the Materials Assistance Program. Like HAP before it, Nunavummiut were given construction materials, but the home had to be built by a Nunavut Housing Corporation-recognized contractor.

Ten people received those packages, but by 2012 the program was discontinued, though it's unclear exactly when it folded, or why. At the time, the Nunavut Housing Corporation said detached single family dwellings were the least cost effective construction style.

As for how a new HAP program would look, Okalik said it would be an investment to getting Nunavummiut into their own homes.

"We now have decentralized offices throughout the territory, so there are enough employees who can tap into that program and get their own homes and live in them," Okalik said.

"It's an investment. Once you own the home, it's up to you. It's not up to the government to maintain it at that point so it puts less strain on our overall budget in the long run."

A 3D future

Political newcomer Cindy Rennie has a slightly different strategy to solve housing.

The 49-year-old mother of two says building homes using 3D printers is the way to go.

"It's a lot cheaper, affordable. There's a solution to fix the housing crisis here," Rennie said.

The concept has been tried in both Russia and China

"Basically you would have an architect build your 3D model, and you build these homes looking at the needs of the people that require those houses," Rennie said, adding according to her research, they can be built in –35 C.

"It's very painful to see, when you're looking around Iqaluit and you go ino the Plateau, there are beautiful homes that are pricing over $500,000. Then you go into Iqaluit-Sinaa where you see these 20-plex housing [units] built with cheap materials.

"I don't see why we can't build cheaper homes and more homes for the homeless."

Cindy Rennie's strategy to tackle housing is to build units using a 3D printer. It's been done in Russia and China and she says it can work in Nunavut, too. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Rennie, a public affairs officer at Nunavut's Legislative Assembly, says fixing housing first will see other issues fix themselves.

While she admits she's not a "seasoned politician," she says there needs to be some new blood in Nunavut's legislature.

"I'm a team player and I'm very good at listening to what people have to say and I like to listen to their ideas. It's not my agenda. It's theirs. It's about them, it's not about me," she said.

'We can't just put blinds on and ignore it'

Back in the MLA race is political veteran Elisapee Sheutiapik, after narrowly losing to Okalik in the 2008 election. Sheutiapik officially lost by only 44 votes, but the race was much closer after an RCMP investigation revealed some votes were ineligible.

The president of the Qulliq Status of Women Council and former Iqaluit mayor says housing is the foundation of a family, and everybody has a right to it.

"This riding has an influx of social housing. But at the end of the day if we look at housing as our foundation of a family, we need to look at it as affordable housing," Sheutiapik said, noting a difference between that and social housing, which can sometimes carry a three year waitlist.

"I've been going door-to-door for the last two weeks now, and one lady said we need to look at maybe rent control. She said she was here since 1999, and a one-bedroom used to be $900 [per month]. You can't get it for less than $1,200 today for a bachelor, never mind a one-bedroom."

Iqaluit-Sinaa candidate Elisapie Sheutiapik says to tackle housing, it needs to be looked at as a whole, with affordability being the key. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Sheutiapik said she doesn't have all the answers on how to solve the city's housing issues, but pointed to her track record on working with various organizations, including land claim organizations, as a way to create funding to solve the problem.

"We can't do it alone, but maybe small pots of money from all of them could start to eliminate some of the waiting list. Not just social housing," she said, noting how there are minimum-wage earners who can't afford market rentals.

"You can't just go into it narrow-minded and just look at one. It's housing overall. Because, let's face it, in Iqaluit there's a big gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' I have a relationship with some. They're human beings. We can't just put blinds on and ignore it."

'No silver solution'

Another first-time MLA candidate — though also no stranger to Nunavut's political sphere — is Adamie Itorcheak.

The 52-year-old says there's no easy fix to housing, but he said it starts with building a solid plan.

Adamie Itorcheak says before addressing how exactly to tackle housing, the government needs to first come up with a concrete plan, and then do it. (Travis Burke/CBC)

"Not one MLA spoke when we had a couple of fire deaths within those shacks and boat vessels," Itorcheak said, referring to Iqaluit's notorious shack fires along the beach in the Iqaluit-Sinaa riding.

"Not one has taken the time to take a look at how do we really address that? How do we put a strategy and a plan in place to address that?" He said. "Not just say 'we'll talk about it.' It's to actually implement plans and strategies on how to address that issue."

Asked if he has any plans or strategies, Itorcheak replied "there's different things [he's] looked at.

"I'm still not 100 per cent. And nobody is," he said.

"Some of the things are like, maybe providing heat and providing electricity. And some of it is going to take some money. Some of it is going to be having to shift form our current ideas on how to address it.

"Because all the candidates, all of us, have touched on it. But nobody has that silver solution to fixing this issue. And how do we work to get to that stage."

As for why he's running, Itorcheak said he's running to represent his home.

"For the people, from the people. I was born here. I was raised here. Most likely I'll pass away up here. And it's my house and home," he said.

About the Author

Nick Murray

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.


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