What can $1,800 get you for housing in the North? Nothing

What can $1,800 get you for housing in the North? Nothing

Monthly rent of $1,800 may be enough to get you an apartment in downtown Toronto, or a two-bedroom townhouse in Fredericton. But across Canada's North, it's not enough to get you through the door.

"If the regular Canadian citizen knew the way we were living, they would be in shock," says Olivia Ikey.

Poorly insulated mouldy homes. Snow coming through the windows. Mattresses in the living room. Whole families living in a bedroom. A dozen plus living under one roof. 

"This is not a normal way of living. This is not a normal way of having family," Ikey said.

The 28-year-old has been advocating for housing in her hometown of Kuujjuaq, Que., for a decade. Ikey was one of dozens to testify before a Senate standing committee looking into the state of housing among Canada's Inuit. 

The report calls it an acute housing crisis threatening their health and safety.

It was compiled after five months of studying housing across Inuit Nunagat, made up of the four regions home to Canada's Inuit: Nunavik in northern Quebec, Nunatsiavut in Labrador, Nunavut and Inuvialuit covering Northwest Territories and Yukon.

It makes more than a dozen recommendations including long term, stable funding to replace declining funding by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation earmarked for repair work on existing homes that's set to phase out by 2038.

"This is another serious problem," said Senator Dennis Patterson, co-chair of the standing committee.

"We are going to be left with increasing shortfalls in the monies that we need to properly maintain and rehabilitate the housing stock that we do own," he said. 

A 2014 report by Quebec's housing corporation, the Société d'habitation du Québec, estimates between 85 and 90 per cent of Nunavik's population lives in one of 2,734 social housing units.

The remaining 15 per cent lives in housing provided by an employer or in one of the 100 or so private properties. 

Company homes or government housing favour employees from out of town. Renting a private apartment can run $3,000 a month in Kuujjuaq, Ikey says.

Montreal brain drain

It leaves a gap for locals like her who have a well-paying job, making them a low-priority for social housing but not making enough to afford rent.

"We've lost a lot of amazing people. A lot of Inuit live in Montreal now because there is no way they can get housing," Ikey said.

"We're going to lose all of our people, all of our motivated, good people that want to help the community. We're going to leave because we have no choice."

It took years of badgering housing authorities and government officials for Ikey to finally get placed in social housing. 

"I wouldn't shut up, so they had no choice to give me a house," she said.

But there are hundreds more on wait lists. 

The biggest challenge is a lack of roofs — there are not enough buildings.

'Dire situation' in Nunavut

Nunavut needs anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 more housing units, estimates the president of the territorial housing corporation.

"We're forever and a day trying to convince the federal government that the dire situation for housing in Nunavut needs to be addressed and to be addressed in a proper manner," said Terry Audla.

The costs are astronomical – about $1.5 billion alone just for Nunavut.

Audla is hopeful the promised National Housing Strategy might earmark some money to start building more homes.

Ikey worries of a lost generation growing up in overcrowded homes.

"We're having 16-year-olds have children and then they live in their bedroom with their family for five years waiting for the house," she said.

"It's a huge cycle that's just repeating itself," she said. "We need to save the next generation before anything gets worse."