From a family living for seven years in a condemned house that was meant to be temporary, to people with disabilities needing to be transported in and out of their bathrooms, Canada’s housing advocate said while touring several communities this fall Inuit that she got a glimpse of the dire living conditions that many have faced for years.
“Current levels of federal investments are not sufficient to address the human rights violations caused by the housing shortage,” said Marie-Josée Houle.
The independent, non-partisan watchdog helps promote and protect the right to housing. Houle, who was appointed to the post earlier this year, traveled in October to Nunavut and Nunatsiavut, an Inuit region of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The goal is to learn more about systemic issues in the North that need serious attention and to listen to people with lived experience of insecure housing and homelessness,” she told about his trip.
“This concentration on the North is also due to the fact that people do not go there or that they do not have the possibility of going there.”
One of the main takeaways, Houle said, was the housing shortage. The accommodations available are not in good condition, have problems such as mold or are not suitable for the elderly, people with disabilities or children.
“The government’s neglect and underfunding of Inuit housing has taken its toll over the years,” she said.
“Residents report a lack of trust in public institutions responsible for housing as waiting lists go on for decades and they have even given up applying for housing programs.”
Houle said inadequate housing in the North has led to overcrowding, increased contact with the justice system, exacerbated mental health issues and tensions between families. It also means that many people are forced to leave their communities, which can lead to isolation, racism and violence.
“If it’s not by choice, it can be a traumatic experience for people,” she said. “There are a lot of harrowing stories.”
The 2021 census revealed that almost a third of the approximately 49,000 Inuit who live in Inuit Nunangat – or the Inuit homeland in Canada comprising communities in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and -Labrador and northern Quebec – lived in housing that needed major repairs. More than half lived in overcrowded houses.
This is not the first time that dire housing conditions have been documented in the North.
The Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples released a report in 2017 detailing the severity of the housing crisis in Inuit Nunangat. Former Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq documented ‘inhumane’ housing conditions in several communities in March
The federal government said it has made several housing investments in Inuit Nunangat over the years. This includes $256.7 million over two years in Budget 2016, $400 million over 10 years in Budget 2018, and $845 million over seven years in Budget 2022.
But Houle said there was a need for more federal, provincial and territorial support, such as funding and long-term maintenance. She said it should respect Inuit self-determination and address the unique challenges of the North, such as the climate, short construction season, lack of transportation infrastructure and high costs.
In its 2022 pre-budget submission, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said more than $3 billion would be needed over the next decade to build new housing, as well as maintain and repair existing homes in Inuit Nunangat. .
Nunavut Premier PJ Akeeagok and representatives of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October to request $500 million in the upcoming budget to address the territory’s housing deficit.
The Government of Nunavut recently announced a new plan to build 3,000 additional housing units by 2030, tripling the annual rate of new social housing currently being built. Of these, 300 will be transitional housing, 1,400 social housing, 900 affordable housing and 400 market housing.
“It’s ambitious, but I think if we stick to the plan and things work out, it’s totally achievable,” said Lorne Kusugak, minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation.
Kusugak said the territory cannot continue to build homes as it has in the past, where bids have reached around $1,000 per square foot. He said instead of issuing annual housing demands, the territory is partnering with the private sector to build homes over a longer period at a lower cost.
“We know it’s not going to be easy and there will be a lot of criticism along the way, but we have to do something,” he said. “If we do a few more houses every year doing this… then we are going in the right direction.
“It’s going to be a struggle, it’s going to be a fight. We’re ready for this fight.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 3, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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