No room in the inn

Iqaluit has some of the highest rent prices in Canada and low vacancy rates, leading to a severe shortage of affordable housing. Photo: Sebastian/Wikimedia Commons
Published December 1, 2020

Homelessness of retired cathedral dean exemplifies northern housing crisis

Two years ago, the Rev. Jonas Allooloo was dean of St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut, preparing to retire after more than four decades of work in the Anglican Church of Canada that included stints as a member of General Synod, participation in various national committees and work as a translator who helped produce the first Inuktitut Bible.

As of October, however, he was effectively homeless—another casualty of the housing crisis that plagues Canada’s North.

Since his retirement, Allooloo has been unsuccessfully looking for affordable housing. Last summer, the retired priest and his wife Meena left the hotel where they had been living and moved in with their daughter, who works as a cook and lives in staff housing.

When the Journal caught up with Allooloo in mid-October, the couple were still living in the staff house. But Allooloo said this arrangement may only last until November, after which, he said, “we might be kicked out.”

“We are looking everywhere in this city of Iqaluit for a house,” said Allooloo, who has approached local low-rental housing and spoken to his MLA. “Everywhere I tried, I’ve not been able to find anything.”

Allooloo says priests in the North may face his situation as retirement income can’t keep pace with housing costs. Photo: Art Babych

The Nunavut Housing Corporation in its March 2016 report to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples described a housing crisis in Nunavut marked by severe shortages and “rates of overcrowding unparalleled … anywhere in the country.”

Rent in Iqaluit is among the most expensive in Canada. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment last year was $2,678 according to a report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, compared to $1,695 in Yellowknife and $1,100 in Whitehorse. More than 60% of Nunavut’s population is unable to secure market housing without government or employer assistance.

In August, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq undertook a housing tour, travelling to seven communities and visiting more than 100 homes. She strongly criticized the federal government for its lack of action on the housing crisis.

“Homes in communities across Nunavut are infested with mould and most of them are overcrowded,” Qaqqaq said. “I also heard of parents losing their children to the foster care system because their homes were deemed unfit. This cannot go on.”

Qaqqaq’s account of the crisis echoed Allooloo’s own experience. “It is a problem all over the eastern Arctic…. In order for me to go into a local rental house, I have to stand in line for four or five years…. That’s how bad it is,” Allooloo said.

“A lot of Inuit who live in the North are living in substandard houses, like Mumilaaq said,” he added. “It’s a very big problem here in the North. The federal government doesn’t give enough money to build houses for local people.

“The houses that they build are grabbed by the southerners who come up here to work. They get the best housing. Very few Inuit get that kind of house, unless they’re well-to-do.”

Ordained as a deacon in 1974 and as a priest in 1975, Allooloo lived in mission houses for much of his ministry. He notes that he has a “very good benefit from the Anglican Church of Canada.”

Even a generous pension, however, cannot overcome the lack of affordable housing. When asked whether he has discussed his housing situation with the diocese of the Arctic, Allooloo said simply, “They have no money.”

As this article was being written, Allooloo was still on the search for a home, with his and Meena’s living situation uncertain in the weeks ahead. He expressed concern that more retiring clergy could find themselves homeless in the future.

“I think I’m one of the first ones to be in this situation,” Allooloo said. “But I think that the people who are after me will retire … and they will have to be in my situation too … unless anything happens.”

But change doesn’t come quickly in the region, he said. “[It’s] very slow in the North.”


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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