Public housing tenants worried about mould, sewage overflow

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Public housing tenants George Qayaqjuaq and Josh Alorut are troubled by numerous deficiencies plaguing their residences, including extensive mould, and they say repeated complaints to the local housing organization haven’t resulted in action.

This is the mould in one of the three bedrooms in George Qayaqjuaq’s A-frame public housing unit in Hall Beach. He’s worried the extensive mould around the house is worsening his two-year-old grandson’s asthma. “Where I live is the worst house ever,” says Qayaqjuaq. photo courtesy of George Qayaqjuaq

Qayaqjuaq and Alorut are also worried about possible effects on their families’ health. Qayaqjuaq’s two-year-old grandson, who suffers from severe asthma, lives with him. Qayaqjuaq said he has a letter from a doctor that verifies his grandson’s health issues, which could be exacerbated by mould. He passed the letter on to the community’s housing committee three months ago, he said.

“They never respond or call back,” said Qayaqjuaq.

Alorut and his spouse have four children, ranging from one to six years old. Each spring, members of the household suffer from itchiness and break out in rashes. Alorut said some nurses at the local health centre think mould could be the cause but others aren’t so sure. Either way, he’s concerned about flourishing mould under his home in a five-plex. The unit’s exhaust fan and ventilation system don’t work and none of the three crank-operated windows in the house will open. Although one window is shattered and there’s a gap between the front door and the door frame, there’s not proper air circulation, Alorut asserted.

“I tried telling housing staff to fix this, but (it’s) never fixed,” he said. “It’s hazardous.”

The cracked floor tiles are getting worse in Josh Alorut’s public housing unit in a Hall Beach five-plex. “This crack was very small when I moved in, now it’s opening,” says Alorut. He says there’s a major build up of mould under the floor and he believes it causes his family members to suffer from rashes and itchiness, especially in the spring. photo courtesy of Josh Alorut

Jerome Sheaves, manager of the Hall Beach Local Housing Organization (LHO), declined to comment on specific circumstances.

“All that I can say is that all work orders are processed in a timely manner and we do the best that we can with the resources that we have to rectify the problems brought forth in front of us,” Sheaves said, directing further questions to Nunavut Housing Corporation officials in Iqaluit.

Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk said he plans to raise the predicaments of both tenants in the legislative assembly during the spring sitting, which starts this week.

“I will do everything I can to have these individuals’ concerns heard. This is a serious issue, especially the children’s health,” Kaernerk stated to Nunavut News.

The exhaust fan and ventilation unit are broken in Josh Alorut’s residence in Hall Beach. Proper airflow is limited, although cold air blows in through a gap between the door and the door frame. “Yeah, it’s really cold in wintertime,” Alorut says. photo courtesy of Josh Alorut

Terry Audla, president of the Nunavut Housing Corporation, said he encourages tenants to make repeated contact with their local housing organization if they’re certain housing deficiencies are impacting their lives or the structural integrity of the building.

“I encourage the tenant to keep the LHO informed. Call in and physically show up in the office and make sure that it gets addressed,” Audla said. “Put emphasis where emphasis is needed.”

Hall Beach has $247,000 designated for modernization and improvements of its public housing units in 2019-2020, according to Audla.

The Housing Corporation estimates 80 per cent of its 5,400 residences Nunavut-wide are affected by mould, but much of it is “relatively minor,” Audla said. Approximately 60 to 70 per cent of public housing units have been inspected so far.

Local housing organizations have to prioritize urgent plumbing, heating and fuel tank issues before they deal with mould, particularly smaller incidences – within a 70 cm by 30 cm area. In those cases, tenants can wipe away the mould themselves with household cleansers or even soap and water, Audla said. Mould on the outside of units isn’t as pressing as mould inside, he added.

“At some point they (LHO staff) will get to addressing the mould remediation aspect,” he said, adding that mould removal training has been provided to housing maintainers in communities and new homes have improved ventilation to prevent mould.

That’s not reassuring for Qayaqjuaq, who not only has extensive mould but his sewer tank has overflowed on multiple occasions – again on May 19 – and it’s not due to a lack of pump outs by the hamlet, he said. As well, smoke escapes inside the house from the chimney, heating fuel is dripping onto the floor and the leaky windows allow rain to pool in the sills.

“This house needs major renovation,” Qayaqjuaq said. “Where I live is the worst house ever.”

Another mouldy bedroom wall in George Qayaqjuaq’s residence in Hall Beach. He says he was told the unit was renovated before he moved in a year-and-a-half ago, but only cardboard-like material with a coat of paint was put in place, which masked the mould, according to Qayaqjuaq. The floor of his sewage room and the area under his kitchen sink are also mouldy, he says. photo courtesy of George Qayaqjuaq

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