Nunavut hamlet overcrowding nears breaking point

The Aggark family in Arviat, Nunavut, face a daily struggle in a two-bedroom house with 10 children. "I worry about my children and what goes through their minds," says Theresa Aggark. "I feel guilty. I worry about their outlook on life."

Family of 12 shares 2-bedroom house on shore of western Hudson Bay

In Arviat, Nunavut, Rene and Theresa Aggark have lived in the same two-bedroom public housing unit for 17 years. They have 10 children, from a baby just a few months old to a teenager in his final year of high school.

At night, the youngest kids crowd in with mom and dad, while the older ones have to sleep elsewhere. 

"This is where we sleep, all six of us," says Rene, pointing to his bedroom. "Sometimes it's stressful and it seems like we don't get sleep because one of our children moves and we wake up. One of them moves, everybody moves."

That's not the only challenge for this family living on the western shore of Hudson Bay.

The Aggarks rely on trucked water and sewage services, which often fall behind the needs of 12 people, which means the kids have to wait to wash up or take a bath. 

It easily increases the stress if the water or sewage truck does not come for two to three days.— Rene Aggark, father

"It easily increases the stress if the water or sewage truck does not come for two to three days," says Rene.

Bath time is a luxury for the little ones. Then it's time to tackle the laundry, but with an undersized water tank, the laundry piles up.

"We never get caught up with our laundry," says Rene. "Sometimes we have to go to our parents' or sister's place." 

Theresa Aggark went to a recent town meeting to ask for a bigger public housing unit, but many others were there with similar requests. The local housing authority says it doesn't have the resources to keep up with the demand. 

"Here in Arviat there is too much overcrowding," says Rene. "We cannot handle this big of a problem. It needs to be taken to a higher level to deal with this unfortunate situation. The new MLAs need to make this a big priority," he says, referring to Nunavut's recent territorial election. 

Luckily, the couple are able to feed their family.

"It's trying at times," says Theresa. "I worry about my children and what goes through their minds. I feel guilty. I worry about their outlook on life."

Nunavut’s housing crisis is persistent and worsening. In the legislative assembly this fall, one MLA described a house in his constituency that was home to 24 people, including one 11-year-old boy who took his own life. The MLA was not the first to link overcrowding to other social issues such as violence, illness and kids struggling in school.

Almost a decade ago, the Government of Nunavut and the land claim organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., estimated they’d need $1.9 billion to build and maintain an adequate supply of public housing in Nunavut. In 2006, the federal government responded with $200 million for the Nunavut Housing Trust, and in 2013, added a further $100 million. But Nunavut's housing minister of the day, Peter Taptuna, said that 3,500 housing units are still needed, and nobody knows when the money will materialize.

Until a solution is found, the Aggarks try to stay positive.

"It's nice and warm, that's the only thing we're thinking, we are living in a warm place," says Rene. "That's the main thing."