Trudeau unveils agreement to build housing in Nunavut
In Akeego Ekho’s home in Iqaluit, eight family members share three bedrooms. The tight quarters forces the grandmother to sleep on a couch, while her grandchildren sleep on the floor or in a storage closet.
She’s been on a waiting list for six years, hoping to get into a bigger home. In the meantime, black mould is growing in the bathroom, and the heating is unreliable.
“I’ve got health problems and my granddaughter does too, and my main concern is me and her,”Ekho, who relies on public housing, told CTV News.
Housing is a major problem across Nunavut, where the cost of living is among the highest in the country. Two-thirds of the territory’s population depend on subsidized housing, and it’s not uncommon for 16 people to be crammed into a two-bedroom home.
Affording a home in the isolated community is expensive. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Iqaluit was $2,648 in 2017, according to a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report. The average home costs more than $500,000.
Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern said some of the community’s worst problems are intertwined with the over-packed living conditions.
“Unfortunately it’s a bit of a pressure cooker system. You do see higher rates of violence, higher rates of suicide,” she said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Iqaluit and announced a combined investment with Nunavut of $290 million over eight years to pay for new affordable housing. Those funds will also help repair existing housing – an investment Trudeau says will have a “tangible impact.”
"We recognize that this is a big step forward that is going to make a huge difference in creating thousands of homes and we know this is really going to make a tangible impact in the lives of people here in the North," Trudeau said in Iqaluit.
Ekho, who voted Liberal in the last federal election, isn’t so sure about the plan. She said she’s heard politicians make promises before, and she wants to see more action.
“I want a bigger pledge and a safer home for my grandkids and my kids,” she said.
According to government numbers, Nunavut needs 3,000 housing units to meet the current demand. More than 4,900 individuals are currently on waiting lists for public housing.
Homelessness is also a problem in the territorial capital, where temperatures can drop as low as 0 C in June. Some people live in home-made shacks, while others spend nights huddled in sleeping bags in overturned canoes.
Solomonie Kuksiak, who is homeless, says the investment could make a major difference.
“If the prime minister gives money to get more houses that would be great.”
The money is being allocated from the federal government’s previously announced national housing strategy.
Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq described the situation as a “crisis” and suggested that more money will be needed to handle the problem.
"This is like the tip of the iceberg, but we are thankful for what we're getting and we'll be working with the federal government to come up with a good strategy in terms of how to alleviate more of our housing crisis here," Savikataaq said.
As part of the plan, Nunavut must tell Ottawa how it plans to spend the money. The deadline is April 1, 2020.