$60M for housing in Nunavut a 'down payment' for territory's needs, says minister

The money will be used by the Government of Nunavut to address its most pressing housing and infrastructure needs, but it won't go far.

Funding will be split over two years, confirmed Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal

Iqaluit, shown here on April 8. Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal was in the city this week to make budget announcements. (David Gunn/CBC)

New federal funding for housing in Nunavut will help the territorial government build $60 million worth of homes and infrastructure, says Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal.

Vandal announced the funding Wednesday in Iqaluit, alongside Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk.

He described the funds as a "down payment" for the housing and infrastructure needs in the territory. Details of how the funding will be used were not provided, but the money will go to the Government of Nunavut to be used for its most pressing needs.

The funding is part of the federal government's 2022 budget, of which housing affordability has been a main theme.

Calling it "the most ambitious plan Canada has ever had" for housing, Vandal pointed to other investments as an example of the government's commitment to addressing affordability, including $845 million over seven years to support housing in Inuit communities across the North.

"I don't have to tell anyone here of the unique challenges faced by Nunavut communities — because of the higher construction costs, the shorter construction seasons and increasing effects of climate change," he said.

"Every day, Northerners, Nunavummiut, live these impacts."

$825K to build one home

Those higher costs have nearly doubled in recent years. An analysis by CBC News of Nunavut Housing Corporation contracting reports and figures obtained through access to information requests show the annual price per unit for new housing builds in Nunavut sat around $450,000 in 2018, but rose to more than $825,000 last year.

Nunavut needs thousands of new housing units in order to address the waitlist that has been described by Housing Corporation president and CEO Eiryn Devereaux as "staggering." More than 3,000 people are on that waitlist, he said recently, and it will cost billions of dollars to build enough units —  a cost that will keep rising until the homes are built.

Akeeagok said the territorial and federal governments share a priority when it comes to addressing housing, and noted it will take all levels of government to address the problem.

"Nunavut is united in our call for more affordable housing in our territory," he said, adding housing is the answer to making communities stronger and thus bolstering Arctic security and sovereignty.

He said it's also a necessity to improve the health of Nunavummiut, since families in overcrowded housing have had to grapple with outbreaks of COVID-19 or tuberculosis — or, in some cases, both at the same time.

"We must do better," Akeeagok said.

"I look forward to continuing to work with each of you to find new, innovative and real solutions to addressing our homelessness in our community."

Bell described the announcement, as well as an announcement last month of federal dollars to improve Iqaluit's water treatment system, as "very big steps for all of us."

"We're not asking for handouts, we're not begging for free housing, but we do need help," he said.

Written by April Hudson with files from Nick Murray