Nunavut's social housing faces billion-dollar shortfall

Half of Nunavut's population lives in social housing. Thousands more are on a wait list. With an estimated 3,000 households in need, the head of the territory's housing corporation estimates it will take more than $1 billion to fix.

Half the territory lives in social housing, and newly built units cover only a fraction of the need

Palluq Chouinard has been temporarily house-sitting at a friend's place in Iqaluit with her daughter and two grandchildren. The 53-year-old has been homeless for the past 14 years. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

By nightfall, her only thought was where she was going to find a place to sleep. 

When she had no other place to turn, she would find her way to the bathroom floor of the hospital.   

"I ended up sleeping on the floor, wherever I could to find a warm place," said Palluq Chouinard.

"That's what I've done."

The 53-year-old has been homeless in Iqaluit for more than a decade. Fourteen years ago she separated from her husband and was kicked out of her home.

"In the daytime it's okay. But when it's dark, around 6 or 7 at night I have to start thinking, who's going to be kind, and who's going to [welcome me] to their house?"

"Even though when I'm sick or I'm in pain, I don't show it because I'm homeless."

More than 3,000 households in Nunavut are estimated to be homeless and waiting for g​overnment-assisted housing, according to the Nunavut Housing Corporation. Under the government agency's definition, a household can mean parents with children, a single person, or some other family arrangement. 

Getting through the backlog can take years. 

Chouinard has been waiting for the past five. But last month, she learned her wait will soon be over.


Half of Nunavut lives in social housing, many of the units overcrowded.

"I've seen as high as 22 people staying in a three-bedroom unit that was 1,200 square feet," said Lori Kimball, the president and CEO of the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

Right now, there are 2,313 households on the waiting list to get into social housing, though Kimball estimates the need is much higher. Many don't bother applying, she says, because of the severe shortage.

I've seen as high as 22 people staying in a three-bedroom unit that was 1,200 square feet.- Lori Kimball, president and CEO, Nnavut Housing Corporation

"They just don't exist," she said.

"There's not enough roofs to house everybody in Nunavut."

She estimates that meeting the demand will take more than $1 billion.

The executive director at the men's shelter in Iqaluit sees many come through the doors who have spent years waiting.

"We've had clients here for as long as 10 years who have been on the waiting list for housing as long as that," Doug Cox said.

The shelter has 20 beds but usually sleeps 25. The hallway is crammed with bags of clothing and other belongings of the men who frequent it.

"Most of them have become uncomfortably satisfied to just wait, knowing that the chances are very slim that they'll ever get a place," Cox said.

Not enough money

In 2013, the federal government announced $100 million to add to the more than 5,000 public housing units that already exist in the territory.

"We're just wrapping up those units now," Kimball said. The 213 units are expected to open within the year.

"We didn't get an announcement last spring. We were hoping to. Which means next summer there's really nothing going to be built other than what the Government of Nunavut can afford to build, which is a much, much smaller number of units."

This year, the territory committed $10 million towards building public housing units. With an average cost of a unit $400,000, it's only enough to cover a fraction of the need. 

"You can't build it if you don't have the money to pay for it."

The ideal scenario says Kimball is a long-term funding commitment from the federal government to develop a 20-year plan that would see the territory build 200 housing units a year.

"We can build that many units per year, logistically. We need the money," Kimball said.

Moving in

Since the spring, Chouinard has been temporarily house-sitting at a friend's place, living with her daughter and two grandchildren.

Last month she found out she'll soon have a place of her own.

After years of battling drug and alcohol addictions, suicide attempts and years without a home, this woman who owns almost nothing is finally going to get an apartment.

"I don't mind about the furniture," she said. 

"I just want my house keys. That's it."


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