Abbott pledges support for Nunatsiavut housing after federal advocate calls it 'abominable'

Nain, pictured here last winter, has been facing a growing problem with a lack of housing for several years. The situation was recently described as 'a human rights failure' by Canada's federal housing advocate. (Hamlin Lampe - image credit)
Nain, pictured here last winter, has been facing a growing problem with a lack of housing for several years. The situation was recently described as 'a human rights failure' by Canada's federal housing advocate. (Hamlin Lampe - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's housing minister toured Nunatsiavut this week, getting a first-hand look at conditions in coastal communities like Nain and Hopedale.

John Abbott's visit came a few months after Canada's first federal housing advocate, Marie-Josée Houle, toured the Labrador region earlier this fall to get a glimpse of housing conditions for a report she's preparing for the federal government.

She used words like "abominable," and "human rights disaster" to describe the situation, saying she still has nightmares about some of substandard conditions she saw people living in.

Abbott said he understands her opinion and hopes to change the situation as quickly as possible.

"Hopefully next time the advocate is in Labrador, she'll see a significant change," Abbott said.

Co-ordinated approach

Abbott, the minister responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Commission, was accompanied by members of the Nunatsiavut government who invited him to see for himself what they call a housing crisis. Some communities have long wait-lists for new houses, leading to cramped conditions with extended families sharing the same house. Abbott said it's clear that a lack of proper insulation is also an issue.

The local Inuit government launched the Nunatsiavut Housing Commission on Nov. 30, with a mandate of building and maintaining its own supply of public housing — from emergency shelters to rental homes.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Abbott — whose full portfolio includes children, seniors and social development — said the best way forward is for his department to work with the housing commission to complete projects.

"We know that the best way to do this, the most efficient and effective way to do this, is to work together," he said. "They are on the ground, we have financial resources we can bring to bear, we have planning resources we can bring to bear, and I think working together we can solve these challenges."

Holly Andersen/CBC
Holly Andersen/CBC

Some of the hurdles to overcome will be the supply of materials and labour in remote towns like Nain, accessible only by ferry and cut off by sea ice in the winter. Getting contractors willing and capable of building in those conditions has long been a challenge, Abbott said.

"We know we have a lot more work to be done," Abbott said. "And that's why we want to make sure we can work with the commission to come up with a joint approach so that we can address all the housing needs in the Nunatsiavut area, particularly in Nain and Hopedale."

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