Nunavut government to review housing allocation, rent scales

The Nunavut Housing Corporation has promised to review how it allocates housing construction in communities, and how it decides what rent will cost. 

Patterk Netser, the Minister Responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation announced on Monday that the review — of its methodology for housing allocation and rent scales — will be independent. 

The review comes after an error was found in some wait lists used by the housing corporation to determine which communities are most in need of housing. 

MLAs flagged that error during this fall sitting, after a finalized housing wait list for Igloolik was 50 per cent lower than it was the year before. MLAs said if one community list is wrong, others could be too. 

"We identified an error in the numbers that we presented to the house and we've corrected that," Netser said. "We need to be open and transparent to the people and to the house. We've ordered a review on that [housing allocation] and also on the rental scale."

There's no timeline yet for the review, but Netser says he hopes to see a report tabled during the life of the current assembly. There are two years left in the territorial government's term.  

'There was no way I was going to pass this budget with wrong information'

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa said he checked with his local housing authority, and realized the final wait list the corporation gave to MLAs for Igloolik wasn't close to the same. 

The housing corp. said that was because it was already building in Igloolik. In 2019-20, the housing corporation plans to build 20 housing units in Igloolik.

But the error was later acknowledged. 

"Sure enough, I was correct in saying that those were inaccurate numbers that he was providing and there was no way that I was going to pass this budget with wrong information provided to the membership in the legislative assembly," Quassa said.  

Travis Burke/CBC

He's satisfied to have been offered an apology, but said MLAs need correct information if they're going to approve a budget. 

"It's very important because housing is such a big issue and we need to get the right information to get the right sort of housing needs met in our communities."

This week members approved a $43 million capital estimate for the corporation's coming fiscal year. That approval was deferred earlier in the sitting, because of concerns about accurate wait lists, rent scales, funding for home-ownership and units damaged by fire. 

The corporation has used its current allocation method since 2013. Right now, local housing authorities update housing wait lists. Residents are supposed to reapply every six months.

Rent for public housing ranges from around $1,500 for a one-bedroom unit to $2,500 for a five-bedroom unit. But rent scales can change depending on a renters employment. 

The housing corporation does lower rent for units that are not renovated, Netser told MLAs. Some members asked if renters could pay less when they are living in units where mould is found. 

When MLAs approved the government's capital budget on Tuesday, John Main, chair of the standing committee of regular members, thanked his fellow MLAs for questioning how the government spends its money. 

"The budgeting process, it's a crude mechanism that we have to exert influence over the government," he said.

"We do not have the ability to commit the government to spend money on things. When it comes to budgeting we are left with a simple decision as regular members to approve or not approve." 

Nunavut's legislative assembly fall sitting adjourns today.