The Inuvialuit Regional Corp. is building 10 new housing units this year and more next year thanks to $15 million the federal government announced in 2016.
But the 10 new units — a six-plex in Inuvik and a four-plex in Tuktoyaktuk at a cost of $4.7 million — will replace 10 others that were lost to fire, leaving the Inuvialuit no further ahead of an ongoing housing crisis.
"We're just trying to meet the needs of what was out there already," said Duane Smith, the IRC's president and CEO. "We're not even addressing the original intent of the housing funds."
Fire destroyed a six-plex in Inuvik last March. A similar fire struck in Tuktoyaktuk several years ago.
The new units should be completed by the end of the year. The IRC has not yet announced how many units will be built, or where, with the remaining $10 million.
Close to 150 people in the Inuvialuit communities are on a waitlist for housing, according to N.W.T. Housing Corporation numbers from March 2016.
"It just shows you the level of need within this region alone for new housing," said Smith.
Local builders, local control
Inuivaluit-owned Nappaq Construction has been hired to build the units on lots owned by the N.W.T. Housing Corporation, which will take over the units upon completion. The company aims to use local tradespeople, helping to develop skills in the region.
The funding arrangement was prompted by a Senate committee that studied the housing crisis in Inuit regions last year. Even before releasing its report Wednesday, the committee wrote a letter to the Trudeau government recommending federal funding go directly to Inuit organizations where appropriate.
Smith was one of several leaders who recommended the move.
Controlling the money directly, he said, will allow Inuvialuit to make decisions that will have a long-term, positive impact.
For example, he said, they want to focus on quality over quantity and build houses that "can take the expected wear-and-tear that houses receive over time, from the weather especially."
"It may cost a little more but to build the more efficiently so that they last a lot longer and are more solid. In the long term it will require less maintenance and repair costs."
Tom Williams, president and CEO of the N.W.T. Housing Corp., says it's an opportunity for the IRC to prepare for self-government.
He called it a chance to "increase economic opportunity and also to build capacity of their residents and beneficiaries."