Overhaul funding to deal with Inuit housing crisis: Senate committee – CP

Source: The Canadian Press
Mar 1, 2017 

By Jordan Press and Kristy Kirkup


OTTAWA _ Qaumariaq Inuqtaqau has seen housing conditions decline in his hometown of Iqaluit over three decades, leaving homes with broken doors, cracked walls and mould everywhere.

He calls the situation: “Inhumane.”

On Wednesday, a Senate committee focused a harsh light on what Inuqtaqau described, warning that the acute Inuit housing crisis will only get worse unless the federal government makes swift changes to how it funds housing in the North.

The Senate committee on aboriginal peoples cautioned that there is no quick fix for a problem decades in the making, which has led to overcrowding, substandard homes and a lack of affordable and suitable housing options that has put many Inuit families on the verge of homelessness in one of the harshest climates in the world.

The committee called on the Liberals to provide funding directly to Inuit groups which have a track record of success to help build homes for those in need, rather than tie it up in red tape by directing it through provinces and territories.

The committee said the government must reverse a decline in funding for housing in the North, where construction costs are estimated to be three times higher than in Toronto and federal dollars don’t go as far as they do in the South.

The report also asked the Liberals to provide stable and predictable funding to allow local officials to make long-term plans.

The senators urged the government to listen to Inuit leaders, who feel Ottawa has repeatedly ignored their ideas.

“The housing crisis is only getting worse,” said Sen. Dennis Patterson, the committee’s deputy chair who represents Nunavut in the upper chamber. “That’s because there’s a very young and rapidly growing Inuit population in Inuit Nunangat and it’s placing very significant pressure on an already limited housing stock.”

Up to 15 people can be crammed into small and crumbling three-bedroom units in many Inuit committees, with multiple generations of families living together because they can’t afford separate residences.

Overcrowding has helped lead to higher levels of domestic violence and abuse and health problems that include tuberculosis infection rates 250 times higher than in the non-indigenous population.

“A lot of Inuit live in shacks, even elders live in shacks all around Nunavut, not only here in Iqaluit,” Inuqtaqau said during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Iqaluit last month.

“It is very inhumane how our elders are living in shacks.”

The Senate committee didn’t say just how much money is needed to address a housing shortfall in Nunavut estimated at 3,000 units, suggesting that the figure may be so high that it creates a state of inertia in which people believe the problem is insurmountable.

Committee chair Sen. Lillian Eva Dyck said investing to make housing more available, affordable and suitable in the North calls for moral and political will on the part of the government .

During the Trudeau visit to Iqaluit in early February, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos called the housing conditions in Inuit communities the worst in Canada. Following a meeting with Inuit leaders, Duclos said the federal government still had work to do on improving housing in the North and wanted to engage directly with local officials to make sure conditions got better.

The Liberals are expected to release a promised national housing strategy in the coming months aimed at bringing down the cost of home ownership and rental units across the country, and craft a indigenous-specific strategy that will take longer to complete.


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