Senators head North to study Inuit housing crisis

Members of a Senate of Canada standing committee are heading to six Inuit communities in Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut next week to study housing issues.

'Our plan is to shine a light on the problems,' says Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson

Members of a Senate of Canada standing committee are heading to six Inuit communities, including Iqaluit, to study housing issues. (Katherine Barton/CBC)

Members of a Senate standing committee are heading to six Inuit communities next week to study the North's housing crisis, including the lack of affordable housing and extreme overcrowding. 

The Senate's Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples began working on the study after last year's election. 

While she admits the issue has been studied a lot, committee chair Senator Lillian Dyck of Saskatchewan says this is the first time it's had a federal focus, and the weight of the Senate behind it. 

"Our intention is to focus it and put pressure on the government," she said. "This will be different."

They've already heard from experts from across the North and now representatives are set to visit six communities: Iqaluit, Igloolik, Sanikiluaq, Inukjuak, Kuujjuaq and Nain.

'Our intention is to focus it and put pressure on the government,' said Senator Lillian Dyck, the committee chair. (CBC)

'Shine a light'

Last year, the committee submitted a report to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs about issues related to housing on First Nations reserves.

But, Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, deputy chair of the committee, says the situation in those communities is far different than in Inuit regions, since the responsibility for funding housing on reserves falls entirely to the federal government.

"We've learned already that there are sometimes a complex series of responsibilities for housing. In some areas there are regional housing authorities, such as in Labrador and Nunavik," said Patterson. 

"In Nunavut, it's local housing authorities and the Nunavut Housing Corporation."

That's why Patterson says he's thankful the Senate was able to foot the bill for travel to those remote communities — which will cost about $200,000.

"Our plan is to shine a light on the problems, learn about what's going on first hand, visit communities, talk to people involved in housing," he said. 

"Ultimately, we'll make recommendations to the federal government on how things can be improved."

Effect on quality of life

The committee is also looking at ways to ensure current homes are properly maintained. 

"There is a crisis emerging with the decline of operating and maintenance funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation," said Patterson.  

"While moneys have been announced in the recent federal budget to build more social housing in Nunavut, which is welcome, there's a steady decline in the funds from Canada to maintain those houses and operate them."

Senator Dyck says the impact of poor housing is felt by Northern residents in many ways, and puts the health, mental well-being and livelihood of Inuit at risk. 

"All of those conditions, the overcrowding, it affects young people. If they don't have a place to study, how are they going to do in school?" she said. "If they don't do well in school, then how does that affect the way they feel about themselves?

"They need to have a safe, secure place to live."

The committee's report will likely be finished this fall. After that, the government will have 150 days to respond to the study's findings.

Both senators say they're hoping Northerners will weigh in on the issue by contacting the committee