We can do better: Housing in Inuit Nunangat

Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal People

In March 2017, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples chaired by The Honourable Lillian Eva Dyck released a report detailing the state of the housing crisis in Inuit Nunangat. The report makes 13 recommendations for actions to address the far-reaching effects of poor housing conditions in Inuit communities across Northern Canada. The following is an excerpt of that report.

Executive summary

Throughout their traditional homelands, Inuit face an acute housing crisis which threatens their health and safety. This persistent and growing housing shortage has been characterized as one of the most significant public health emergencies in this country. Severe overcrowding, substandard homes, and a lack of affordable and suitable housing options has left many Inuit families one step away from homelessness; an unsettling reality in one of the harshest climates in the world. In Nunavik alone, over half of Inuit families live in overcrowded housing. In far too many communities, up to 15 people, including young children, live in small and crumbling three bedroom units. The effect of these conditions, on children in particular, is deeply troubling. Overcrowding results in higher levels of domestic violence and abuse, placing children in unacceptably vulnerable situations.

The lack of decent and affordable housing continues to have serious public health repercussions throughout the Inuit territories. Tuberculosis, which is rare in southern Canada, occurs among Inuit at a rate over 250 times higher than for non-Indigenous Canadians. Inuit families are at higher risk for mental health problems, including stress and anxiety. High levels of respiratory infections among Inuit children, such as chronic lung disease after lower respiratory tract infections, are also linked to crowding and poorly ventilated homes.

Adequate housing contributes directly to improved educational attainment levels, positive relationships, good health and economic prosperity. As Inuit are the youngest population in Canada, there is a growing urgency to identify and implement culturally-appropriate solutions. The Committee heard clearly that if we are serious about providing young Inuit with the ability to participate fully in the life of their communities, investments in housing must be a priority.

To this end, the availability of social housing is essential, especially because private homeownership will likely continue to be financially out of reach for many Inuit. Given the ongoing financial and demographic pressures for social housing, adequate federal support is considered critical by many in order to help territorial and Inuit governments keep up with the escalating housing needs in their regions.

However, we heard consistently, that at current levels, federal funding is inadequate to meet current and projected demand. The high costs of construction (estimated at three times higher than in Toronto), operation, maintenance, and transportation mean that few homes can be built with federal funding. To make matters worse, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, federal funding for social housing is declining, making it impossible to meet community housing needs.

Recognizing the need for additional federal funding, the Committee recommends that the federal government develop a funding strategy for housing in Inuit Nunangat. Such a strategy, we believe, is necessary not only to address the declining funding under social housing agreements, but also to provide adequate, predictable and stable funding so that regional housing authorities can plan for, and meet, long-term housing needs.

Over the longer term, Inuit need to have access to a range of housing options capable of meeting their needs, including private homeownership, co-operative housing, and rent-to-own opportunities. Currently, barriers such as affordability and the absence of a real estate market have prevented these options from gaining traction in Inuit Nunangat.

Ultimately, any solution to the housing crisis will require the direct involvement of Inuit who experience the housing crisis every day. Currently, targeted federal funding for housing in Nunavik and Nunatsiavut is transferred first to the province, and then to Inuit organizations. As these organizations are better positioned to identify local needs and priorities within their communities, the Committee recommends that federal funding for housing be provided directly to Indigenous organizations.

In this report, we have set out actions to support integrated and community-based solutions that better reflect Inuit cultures and the climate in which they live. This means involving Inuit in meaningful partnerships in the design of suitable homes, exploring new technologies to make better and more affordable homes available, exploring alternative financing opportunities that support greater homeownership, and taking appropriate steps to lower operating and construction costs, while promoting local skilled labour.

Finally, the chronic housing shortage, combined with a young and growing population, requires us to act now to alleviate the vulnerability experienced by far too many Inuit families due to a lack of housing and to ensure that generations of Inuit to come can fulfil their promise.

Recommendations

  1. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation work with other federal departments, and the relevant provincial, territorial and Inuit organizations, to develop a funding strategy for northern housing. This funding strategy should address concerns about declining funding under social housing agreements and provide adequate, predictable, stable and long-term funding for housing in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
  2. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation work with Inuit organizations in the Northwest Territories, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut to ensure funding for Inuit housing is provided directly to those organizations, where appropriate.
  3. That Fisheries and Oceans Canada amend the Fee Schedule to exempt all Nunavik communities from marine navigation services fees.
  4. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation provide sufficient funding to northern housing authorities to permit the construction and operation of additional transitional housing options based on community needs.
  5. That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, in consultation with other federal organizations and Inuit governments, take immediate steps to review and expand the Isolated Posts and Government Housing Directive’s eligibility criteria to include local Inuit employees, where appropriate.
  6. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in co-operation with the relevant provincial, territorial and Inuit housing authorities, explore ways to support homeownership, such as co-operative and cohousing ownership, home buy-back and grant programs, that are suited to community needs in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
  7. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation continue to provide funding to Habitat For Humanity’s Indigenous Housing Program.
  8. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation allocate a portion of the Affordable Rental Housing Innovation Fund specifically to the development of alternative housing options in communities in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
  9. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation work with relevant federal departments and appropriate housing agencies in order to develop a coordinated strategy for government research and development into northern housing.
  10. That the National Research Council work with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders to develop model building codes tailored to the conditions and limitations of the North.
  11. That Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada reinstate the Climate Change Adaptation Program to provide funding to help Indigenous communities minimize the impacts of climate change.
  12. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ensure that a greater number of young Inuit from Nunavut, Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region participate in the Housing Internship Initiative for First Nations and Inuit Youth.
  13. That the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in collaboration with Indigenous organizations and other relevant partners, ensure that the proposed national housing strategy include a specific strategy to address the housing challenges in northern Indigenous communities located in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut. ◉

Endnotes

1 The full report can be found here: https://sencanada.ca/en/sencaplus/news/resolving-housing-problems-in-canadas-north/


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