Redgrave, R.C. (1985) Helping Both Ways in Housing Administration: Inuit Middlemen in the Arctic, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Calgary

Keywords: architecture and designcrowdingGjoa Havenhistory of housing policyhomeownershiphousing conditionslocal housing authorityNorthwest Territories Housing Corporationshack housingsocial housing  

In this dissertation, Redgrave traces the evolution of government housing programs for Inuit. Fieldwork was conducted between June and August 1982 in Gjoa Haven while the author was employed by the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation. The author’s goal was to study Inuit employed by Kikitak Housing Association (KHA), the local social housing authority. Redgrave also reported on relations between the government, the local housing authority, and Inuit tenants. He collected data through interviews, observation, and review of government housing reports and meeting minutes from the KHA.

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation (NWTHC) was created in 1974 to develop, maintain, and manage social housing and rental programs (p. 47-8). Redgrave traces the shift from welfare housing to rental housing with the Northern Rental Housing Program (1965) to the creation of the NWTHC. Northern families, specifically low-income residents, did not have many options to obtain housing and became dependent on the social housing program (p.46).

Redgrave stated in the late 1950s Inuit used scrap lumber, tar paper, and packing crates to create one-room structures. These wood frame buildings were inhabited in the winter (p. 48-49). The author reports that the make-shift structures resembled snowhouses in regards to space utilization; one half of the room was used for a bed or sleeping platform while the other half was used for storage. These structures, Redgrave reported, were unsanitary.

He also describes some idiosyncratic housing schemes such as an “igloo-type structure” that was built from white Styrofoam as well as double-walled tents (p. 50). In 1959, “matchbox” houses were introduced into northern communities. The first housing programs encouraged Inuit to become homeowners. These programs failed because of high housing costs. Inuit who could not afford housing were assisted by the welfare division of the Department of National Health and Welfare (p. 51). The Northern Rental Housing Program was created in 1965. Rent payments were determined by family income. Houses were allocated to families based on need (p. 52). A critique of the program, Redgrave reported, was that housing designs did not accommodate Inuit utilization of space and traditional activities. Instead, houses were constructed according to southern Canadian standards and lifestyles of white, middle-class Canadians (p. 53). Inuit also criticized the NWTHC and government housing agencies for their reluctance to help Inuit communities understand housing policies and programs.

The population in Gjoa Haven during Redgrave’s research was approx. 530 (490 Inuit and 30 Euro-Canadians) (p. 62). In winter, snowhouses and other “improvised dwellings” were constructed (p. 68). When the first government houses arrived in Gjoa in 1961, the local priest, a schoolteacher, and a few Inuit allocated the first houses to the elderly and sick. Although the houses had no electricity, plumbing, and were crowded, Redgrave reported that Inuit were pleased with the structures (p.69). By 1982, there were 95 rental units to accommodate a of 503 (p. 70).

The KHA was established in 1968 in an effort to involve Gjoa Haven Inuit in housing policy and procedures (p. 90). The KHA was given limited administrative and financial control within the community. The NWTHC gave final approval on all housing and financial decisions in the settlement. According to Redgrave, there were often misunderstandings about rent collection (p. 126). Inuit tenants did not understand where or how their rent money was used by the KHA/NWTHC. The primary goal set by the KHA was to increase the number of houses in the settlement and improve housing conditions.

The allocation of houses in Gjoa Haven was the responsibility of the KHA. It was seen as a difficult and stressful task by KHA board members and staff (p. 116). Redgrave asserts that traditional Inuit family alliances and values concerning redistribution hampered decision-making. Tenants could make direct pleas to the board for housing preference or could obtain a letter from the public health nurse stating they need new housing for health reasons (p. 118-119). These strategies improved the chances of those tenants receiving better housing. Tenants also complained about favoritism in housing allocation. Immediate or extended families of board members were often given preference to new housing (p. 123) despite being against the NWTHC’s rule of providing housing on the basis of need.