Despite homelessness and overcrowding described as a crisis in Labrador, one in five provincially-run housing units in Inuit communities across the region are empty and awaiting repairs.
Some units have been vacant for almost three years, according to figures provided by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.
The provincial government says it is working to fix homes, but people on the ground say the wait is causing harm.
“It means that young families, victims of violence, people experiencing homelessness do not have the chance to flourish and move forward in their lives,” said Nicole Dicker, executive director of the house of Nain transition, where eight of 34 units are vacant.
Meanwhile, a long-standing housing shortage in the community has forced many families to cram multiple generations into homes built for four or five people, she said, while those without housing slept on couches and floors.
In the community of about 1,125 people, those eight units would bring a lot of relief, Dicker said in an interview Thursday.
“We all know someone who could use an apartment,” she added.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation operates 56 units in the communities of Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik, spokeswoman Jenny Bowring said in a recent email.
Twelve are empty and need repairs, she said. Eleven need major repairs and one needs minor work and will be repaired “short term”. Eight empty units are in Nain and the other four in Hopedale, a town of about 575 people.
All but one have been vacant for more than a year, she said, and four have been empty for nearly three years.
Money is available to fix them all, but the agency is struggling to find contractors to do the job, Bowring said.
Contractors are currently being hired to repair two units in need of major work, she said, but a recent tender for the other nine units was “unsuccessful”.
Housing in crisis
This comes as no surprise to Joe Dicker, the AngajukKak, or mayor, of Nain’s local Inuit government.
North coast towns like Nain and Hopedale are accessible by plane or ferry, and the ferry only operates for about half the year when there isn’t much sea ice, he said. he declares. The ferry is cheaper, which means there’s a short window to ship the wood and finish the job, he said. The government should have a maintenance person in town and somewhere to store supplies, he said.
The mayor said the housing shortage in Nain reached a crisis point years ago. Overcrowding puts people at higher risk of diseases like tuberculosis, he said, which killed a 14-year-old boy in the community in 2018.
Lela Evans, NDP MP-elect for the region, also calls on the government to ensure units are regularly serviced and do not sit empty. She filed a petition from local residents in the provincial legislature on April 13 asking for a plan.
“It’s completely unacceptable that one-fifth of the units are vacant,” Evans said. “They need to have a way to do the repairs all year round.”
John Abbott, the minister responsible for the province’s housing corporation, agrees the houses have sat empty for too long, but he said that due to the relatively low number of units it is not possible to have someone in the communities staff to do the repairs.
The government will issue another call for contractors in the coming weeks, Abbott said. If that doesn’t work, officials will try again, perhaps adjusting the salary to make the offer more attractive, he said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the delays.
“We have a plan and the budgets and everything in place to make sure they get done this year,” Abbott said. “I’m definitely determined to do that this year.”
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