Nunavut MP presses minister on 'desperately needed' housing in the North

“What rationale does the federal government have for promising only 100 housing units when thousands are desperately needed?" Lori Idlout asked Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen Thursday.

'Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 new housing units are urgently needed for people living in my territory'

Nunavut's NDP MP Lori Idlout speaking in the House of Commons Thursday. (ParlVU/CBC)

Nunavut's housing crisis reached Ottawa for the second time this week as NDP MP Lori Idlout pressed Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen for an explanation on why little is being done to address the territory's urgent need for new homes. 

"An MLA for Nunavut has identified that approximately 3,000 to 5,000 new housing units are urgently needed for people living in my territory," Idlout said. 

"But the government's housing announcement in Nunavut a couple of weeks ago included just 101 new units," she said,  referencing a recent pledge to spend $45 million to build new homes in Iqaluit, Sanirajak, Kimmirut, Naujaat, Kugaaruk and Pond Inlet.

"What rationale does the federal government have for promising only 100 housing units when thousands are desperately needed?" Idlout asked

In response, Hussen said the recent annoucement is just one of many federal programs and agreements. 

"By working together with territorial and indigenous partners, we will address the housing needs of Nunavummiut," Hussen said. 

Communities battle for homes

The MLA Idlout referred to was Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut's minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation. 

In the Nunavut Legislative Assembly on Monday, he noted that, in the 2021 fiscal year, 3,120 Nunavut residents were on a wait list for new housing. 

Kusugak spoke in response to questions from Uqqummiut MLA Mary Killiktee, who represents the communities of Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq. 

Mary Killiktee, MLA for Uqqummiut, in a file photo from 2018. She represents the community of Clyde River, which is 15th on Nunavut's list of communities most in need of housing. (Travis Burke/CBC)

She said she was pleased to see a tender for the construction of 15 new units in Clyde River, but that more houses were needed. 

During her questioning, she was dismayed to learn from Minister Kusugak that the community of about 1,000 is itself fifteenth on the wait list for new housing out of Nunavut's 25 communities. 

"Although I clearly understand that reason, it is still regrettable to hear," she told the Legislature.

Kusugak asked her to imagine what it's like for community number 16, or 25 or "communities betwixt that would feel less fortunate."

"Many people in Nunavut on the local public housing waiting list have patiently awaited housing for years, some of them multiple decades," Killiktee then said in Inuktitut. "Some residents have been waiting so long that they have grandchildren now, and they submitted their names when they came of age."

A 'staggering' wait list

On Tuesday, several northerners addressed the federal government's Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, which is exploring the effects of the housing shortage on Indigenous people.

Eiryn Devereaux, the president and CEO of the Nunavut Housing Corporation, told the committee that Nunavut would need to build 300 houses a year for the next eight years just to keep up with the demand. 

"We have 5,800 public housing units to serve the population, but yet the wait list has grown to over 3,000," he said. "It's staggering. The reality is we don't see enough investment to meet that demand." 

He pinned the cost to build 5,000 units immediately at $3 billion, and said the longer it takes to build housing units the more expensive it will be to deal with later. 

Raigili Amaaq, the chair of Igloolik's Housing Association, also addressed the committee. 

She said Igloolik currently has 284 public housing units, with 183 people on the wait list. 

She also said many people don't bother to apply because it's nearly impossible to get a unit.

"People end up living with parents, or parents' cousins or siblings until the parent passes away and [they] can finally have the unit. 

"Is this only in Nunavut? Why should we be living like this in 2022? We are in crisis. We need housing."

With files from Jackie McKay