Should NTI fund public housing?

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As the Government of Nunavut struggles to meet demand for social housing based on federal funding, Housing Minister Patterk Netser is turning to land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) to help alleviate the housing crunch.

There are differences of opinion among Nunavut’s legislators as to whether land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated should be putting money into public housing. photo courtesy of the Nunavut Housing Corporation

“I voted for Nunavut too, and those of us who are beneficiaries of Nunavut are a part of the people who are experiencing a housing shortage,” Netser said in the legislative assembly in June. “It would look very good if Nunavut Tunngavik could build houses for the beneficiaries in Nunavut. I would completely welcome Nunavut Tunngavik if they could give us funding for housing. I want to see that.”

Netser characterized federal funding for housing as “fairly insignificant.”

Ottawa committed $240 million over 10 years in 2017 toward the issue, but it’s estimated that the 3,500 new homes that the territory needs would exceed $1 billion.

“We need tangible assistance from the federal government and Nunavut Tunngavik to mitigate overcrowding and the housing shortage we face,” Netser said.

Aluki Kotierk, president of NTI, was not available for an interview this week.

Cathy Towtongie: “I would be worried if NTI took on a greater role in housing.”
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North/Chesterfield Inlet and a former president of NTI, doesn’t think it would be wise for NTI to dip into its trust fund that has grown to almost $2 billion due to accumulating interest. Investment income from the trust has made scholarships, bereavement travel and harvester support programs possible. It has also aided Inuit businesses and covered operating expenses of NTI and the regional Inuit organizations.

“Inuit received a one-time only payment for the extinguishment and surrender of all rights,” Towtongie said. “I would be concerned if we looked 20 or 30 years down the line because we have a very high birth rate… I would be worried if NTI took on a greater role in housing.”
The territorial government receives an annual transfer payment of approximately $1.6 billion. Because Inuit pay taxes, “I am inclined to say the Government of Canada should step up,” Towtongie said, placing the responsibility on Ottawa.

There’s no provision in the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement for the federal government to provide housing in Nunavut, Towtongie acknowledged. The Nunavik land claim in northern Quebec, however, includes an article pertaining to government funds for housing.

“The primary goal was to have a public government,” Towtongie said of terms of Nunavut’s claim. “They (the government) only negotiated social, cultural, programming and program design… practical items like housing, nobody wanted to negotiate.”

Paul Quassa: “Certainly this is one particular area that the beneficiaries need help in, which is housing, adequate housing.”
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Paul Quassa, Aggu MLA and also a former president of NTI, said he strongly encourages NTI and the GN to work together, even to cost share on projects such as public housing. Together, they can help make Nunavummiut self-reliant, he said.

“These are common issues that both entities are very concerned about,” he said. “Do something.”

The Inuit organizations have proven capable of constructing hotels, office space and even being a partner in building the legislature over the past two decades, Quassa noted.

“Each entity could dip in so many millions of dollars. That’s another route,” he said regarding public housing. “The Nunavut trust funds are there to help beneficiaries any way they can. Certainly this is one particular area that the beneficiaries need help in, which is housing, adequate housing.”