‘We must do better:’ Nunavut leaders optimistic about housing money from Ottawa

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Leaders in Nunavut say they're happy with territory-specific housing money in the federal budget even though the amount is well below what they say is needed to address a long-standing housing crisis. 

The Liberal government budget last week sets aside $60 million to go to Nunavut for housing.Federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, on a two-day visit to Iqaluit to promote the budget, called the amount a "down payment."

Vandal sat shoulder to shoulder Wednesday with Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell and Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which represents Inuit on treaty rights.

Akeeagok said the housing shortage can only be fixed if all levels of government and Inuit organizations work together. 

"Today's gathering speaks of our continued commitment to collaborate to address Nunavut's growing housing gap ... Nunavut is united in our call for more affordable housing in our territory," Akeeagok said at a news conference.

The premier spoke about ongoing COVID-19 and tuberculosis outbreaks made worse by overcrowded and inadequate housing. In some cases, he said, households have been faced with both infections. 

"We must do better," Akeeagok said. 

The budget also includes a further $845 million to address Inuit housing needs overall across Inuit Nunangat, the name for the four Inuit regions in Canada. The amount Nunavut is to receive has yet to be determined.

Data from the Nunavut Housing Corp. indicates 56 per cent of Inuit in the territory live in overcrowded homes.

Last month, the corporation's president, Eiryn Devereaux, told a federal committee on Indigenous and northern affairs that Nunavut would need to build 300 houses a year for the next eight years to meet demand.

Nunavut Tunngavik has a 10-year housing plan that says it would take $4 billion to fix the territory's housing crisis. 

Nunavut NDP MP Lori Idlout has routinely criticized the Liberal government over housing. In March, she rose in the House of Commons to critique a federal announcement of 101 new housing units in the territory, well below the thousands needed. 

Despite that, Kotierk said money in the budget shows a "clear acknowledgment" by the federal government of the need for "a new, transformational approach to solving the deep infrastructure and housing gaps in Nunavut."

Kotierk said she was also pleased to see the $845 million overall for Inuit housing needs. 

"We will see what the allocation looks like for Nunavut." 

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Vandal said high costs, a short construction season and a lack of infrastructure all make it difficult to address Nunavut's housing problems.

"It's really very difficult to close that gap in one year or two years," Vandal said. 

"We're going to continue investing significant dollars for as long as we can," he said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press