First Nations families have own homes thanks to program begun by the MREA

Owning a home for the first time did something amazing for Manitoba Tipi Mitawa family Katina and Kris Cochrane that they weren’t expecting.
“It was weird, but when we moved into the house, it validated our little family,” said 26-year-old Katina, the mother of two-year-old Kinly. “It said that we were growing together. It showed us that we were committed to each other and we were more established. We’re more invested in being a family now.” 
The Manitoba Tipi Mitawa (MTM) program, established by the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA), has supported 11 First Nations families to buy homes in neigbourhoods from Transcona to Elmwood to St. John’s-Inkster. 
MREA created, managed and partially funded the MTM, which was launched in January 2008. The MREA has paid for one-third of every homeowner’s 15 per cent down payment on a home.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leadership sits on an advisory board to co-manage, identify and screen applicants.
The Cochranes were the fourth family to be accepted into the MTM program to help First Nations families buy their first home. They chose a house in a neighbourhood near a good school and immediately felt like they were part of a neighbourhood for the first time.
“We didn’t know anyone for four years in our last rental,” said Katina, who works in the justice system and is expecting the couple’s second child in April. “Now that we’re in a house we know our neighbours and kind of feel like our daughter can play in the yard because our good neighbours are looking out for her too. It’s made a big difference for her.
“We could always go back home and live in our community,” she said, “but the downfall is we cannot build equity when we’re on the reserve,” because the house is not owned by individuals, but is held in common.
“One of the best things about this house is we get to build our future and make our lives a little better financially,” she added.
Some First Nations families who bought their first homes recently have seen their investment increase an average $25,000 in just three years thanks to the housing program designed to get more aboriginal families into homes they own — instead of renting.
The Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA) estimates that the six families who bought homes through the program between 2009 and 2011 have seen their personal wealth increase $154,000 in total, due to an increase in the value of their homes. The increased home values ranged from $4,000 to $60,000.
“This is exactly what we hoped would happen when we first launched this program five years ago,” said MREA spokesperson Harry DeLeeuw.
While the financial returns are impressive, it’s the social returns that are far more impressive, added DeLeeuw, who was part of an MTM team delivering trees to the program’s homeowners this season.
“As we delivered trees from house to house the stories were incredible,” he said. “Families said they felt more secure in their future and their children’s future because they were in homes they owned, homes they could renovate to their style, homes that allowed their children to grow up with a yard, a dog, a real Christmas tree and attend the same school year after year. 
“That’s a feeling of security that money can’t buy,” said DeLeeuw. “It improves their quality of life, makes our neighbourhoods healthier and starts to change the urban landscape.” 
This year for the first time, Vickie Bushie will celebrate Christmas in a home she owns, and that will make all the difference.
“What’s nice about Christmas in our own home is a real tree,” said Vickie  about the tree brought to her home by MREA and AMC representatives. “They aren’t even allowed in a rental place. I grew up with a real tree in my family home with my parents, so that’s something I wanted to give my kids.
“This is our first Christmas in this home, so instead of all going over Christmas day to the parents’ house and to each grandparents’, we’re staying home and we’re inviting the whole family to our house — and they’re all excited,” added Vickie.
And a special pre-Christmas gift has already arrived.
“For the last five years, the kids have been wanting a dog,” said Vickie. “And now that we’ve been able to purchase a home we’ve been able to get them the dog that they wanted.”
The program could not have happened without help from Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation (MHRC) and the government of Canada that provided subsidized mortgage payments and down payment assistance for 12 families to date. MHRC converted existing funds for rental subsidies into mortgage subsidies. The families got mortgages from Assiniboine Credit Union.
Sonya Chesworth learned early that being a renter was never getting her ahead in life. At age 15, she took over paying rent when, as an only child, both her parents fell ill.
“I was just a kid when the landlady knocked on the door and said the rent was due,” 31-year-old Sonya explained. “We had never struggled until that moment. My parents had always provided for me. So I realized I had to go out and provide for them and I got a job waitressing to pay our rent.” 
That led to a life of one rental place after another — mostly in Winnipeg’s roughest neighbourhoods. Later when she married, it meant living with in-laws sharing the rent to help everyone make ends meet. She and her husband William turned down one landlord’s offer to sell them their rental house for $60,000. Thirteen years later she saw the same house on the market for $210,000.
“We said ‘no’ then because we didn’t understand or realize what an opportunity it was,” said Sonya, who is a full-time waitress.
But when Sonya’s mother-in-law heard about the Manitoba Tipi Mitawa housing program on the news six years ago, she urged her son William to apply for the program.
“We thought about it for a while and we just figured how much we were paying in rent, and at the end of the day we were still paying for someone else to have a place,” said William Anderson, 31.
While the first leg of funding has come to a close, MREA and AMC remain committed to the program and are actively seeking funding for the next stage.
“We promised to do 40 homes and we’re just part way through that promise,” said DeLeeuw. “Now that we’ve shown it works we are hoping old and new partners will join us to make this a reality for more aboriginal families.”
Shelley Wilson, a grandmother of seven, bought her home with help from MTM just this fall. She said that it’s been all very new and exciting, especially the reaction of friends when they find out she bought a home.
“I saw somebody at a store and she asked me where I lived, and I told her I just purchased a home here in Winnipeg and she was in shock, she just couldn’t believe that I had bought a house because I think the stereotype of aboriginal people is that we don’t own homes,” said Shelley.
“I don’t know very many aboriginal homeowners, so just knowing that I’m in the category of people who own their own homes just makes me so proud and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
“One of the greatest things about this program for me is I want so badly to show my children and my grandkids what you can do,” she added. “I’m doing everything for them. They are everything to me, so I’m really just grateful.”