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Almost half of Nunavut population in public housing

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

RANKIN INLET - Final recommendations for changes to the Nunavut Housing Corporations rent scale should be in cabinet's hands by early October, said corporation president Peter Scott.

A number of scale components and areas of concern were discussed during a recent workshop in Rankin Inlet, attended by housing association representatives from across Nunavut.

Scott said a draft of the final recommendations has been sent to the participants for comments before the official document is completed.

"Overall, the housing representatives didn't bring a lot of substantial issues on the rent scale to the table," said Scott.

"So, the end result will probably be some tweaking of the rent scale.

"There was no substantial discussion on the amount of rent being charged.

"Everybody agreed it's reasonable and affordable, but we need to simplify the process and improve communication with tenants and the public in general."

The power bill for a housing tenant is based on six cents per kilowatt hour and those on social assistance have that paid for them.

Tenants paying the minimum $60 a month rent also have their heat paid, as well as water and sewage.

Water and sewage costs public housing the same as the department's yearly fuel and power bills combined.

The average rent for a working tenant is equivalent to about 15 per cent of their total gross income.

The national average for shelter cost is 30 per cent.

A working tenant's rent also covers everything except for the six cents a kilowatt hour in power charges.

That works out to about $42 for every 700 kilowatt hours used.

That bill to a regular home owner would be in excess of $300 per month.

A full 45 per cent of Nunavut's 9,200 dwelling units are public housing.

The Nunavut Housing Corp. also has more than 1,150 staff housing units.

Almost half of Nunavut's population lives in public housing, with aboriginal tenants occupying about 98 per cent of the units.

Scott said there's been no improvement during the past five years with arrears in public housing. He said while the current rent scale was intended to be revenue neutral for housing associations, it was recognized that some rents would go up, with the minimum rent increasing to $60 per month from $32 for clients on social assistance.

"One of the changes made to the rent scale was using the Canada Revenue Agency as the verification point for income.

"As it turned out, there was a big difference between what many tenants were telling housing associations their income was and what they were telling the revenue agency.

"As a result, there was a lot more income out there than housing associations were aware of, so a lot of rents did go up."

Scott said the common perception that the rent scale hinders employment is simply an excuse for those who don't want to work.

He said safeguards are built in to ensure the scale is not a disincentive to work.

"Your rent is based on your income from the previous year.

"If you had no income in '06 and started a job today, in September your rent would be assessed from 2006.

"You'd be able to work for a whole year and still only pay $60 per month.

"Then, the following September, your rent would be adjusted according to your entire income in 2007."

Those who get laid off after working a year can go to their housing association after their rent increase, show proof they no longer have the income to support the increase, and have their rent reduced to what is affordable to them.

Scott said it's difficult to manage the rent scale when seasonal workers, or those who get temporary jobs at mining camps, are involved.

He said there are more safeguards in place for the protection of the tenant than to generate revenue for the housing association.

"Youth under 25 are assessed at a maximum income of $5,800 a year as long as they're not the primary tenant.

"If a youth is living with their parents and making $40,000 a year, they would only pay $100 a month.

"Is that a disincentive to work or is it just an excuse not to work nine hours a day?"