Speaking Up About How Housing Systems Are Failing Us

Colorful houses in a flat gravel landscape
Resolute Bay, 1997 photo by Ansgar Walk is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Resolute Bay, one of Canada's most northern settlements, was populated in 1953 by forceable relocation of Inuit, to reinforce Canada's sovereignty claims to arctic islands.

Living in Canada’s arctic territories is not easy. Housing is scarce, in poor condition and often very crowded. Housing advocates have been speaking to the government, the media and the United Nations for years about the housing conditions. Official statistics, including Canada’s census, back up everything that the advocates have been saying.

This is exactly the sort of situation that led to Canada having a National Housing Advocate. The position is part of Canada’s Human Rights structure and responsible for working with the government to fix its housing failures.

The position depends on people speaking up, but when there is only one landlord, (as is the case in the far north) people don’t want to risk losing their housing to tell the Housing Advocate that the system doesn’t work and how it needs to change.

The attached report reflects the efforts of two local leaders, Janine Harvey and Lisa Alikamik, who worked out ways that allowed local people to speak up. The report tells about people’s experiences, but not who they are or where they live. They held community meetings that centred on activities that everyone was used to doing together, so that people would find it easier to talk about their housing and how it was affecting them. Harvey and Alikamik also interviewed 60 people who reflected on their own experience to identify failures in the housing system.

Harvey and Alikamik’s report finishes with recommendations to make the housing system work better, starting with building more housing and repairing the existing stock. The report also recommends processes to improve relations between the landlord/government and residents.

The report is well timed. Not only does it give the Housing Advocate vital evidence about housing for Indigenous people, an important issue that the federal government is overdue in addressing. It also contributes to a UN periodic review of human rights in Canada, which will wind up in November this year.

The report and the research process will be of interest to anyone who is looking for ways that give voices to people who are disenfranchised. Read more at the National Right To Housing Network: Stark Truths: Indigenous Housing Realities & Solutions in Northern, Remote Communities. A report