CREA releases recommendations for aboriginal housing

The Canadian Real Estate Association says aboriginal housing is the sector of Canadian housing most in need of remedial action.

“It is a black mark on Canada’s otherwise enviable housing record,” according to a study released on June 20 by CREA.

“Aboriginal housing is seriously deficient both on- and off-reserve. Because of a substantial backlog and a rapidly growing population, the problem is deteriorating and badly in need of transformative action.”

CREA released the study, Aboriginal Housing in Canada: Building on Promising Practices, at the World 

Urban Forum 3 in Vancouver.

CREA prepared the study for the International Housing Coalition, and it served as the basis for a networking session at the forum that was also organized by CREA.

“More than half of all on-reserve housing is in substandard condition, and one study says there is an urgent need for 80,000 new units on reserves,” said Gerry Thiessen, CREA past-president and a founding director of the IHC. 

“Off reserve, 37 per cent of aboriginal people spend more than one-third of their incomes on housing. Aboriginal persons are also over represented in homeless populations in urban centres across the country,” he added.

“While poor to appalling conditions are all-too-common, the study profiles nine models that, while not perfect, can point the way to transformation,” said the study. “They are existing practices — all the result of aboriginal initiative, development and control, with government funding support.

“The strengths of all these models are effective community consultation, development, and administration. Aboriginal control is essential. Governments, which have traditionally subjected funding to centralized conditions, have been increasingly open to change. 

“Improved communications and a need for flexibility among aboriginal housing providers will be needed to bring about transformation.”

The CREA study profiles the very successful homeownership programs operated by the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, as well as programs that provide transitional housing support to urban aboriginals such as the ones run by Amisk Housing Association in Edmonton and Wigwamen Inc. in Toronto. 

Models of urban rental projects — such as the projects operated by the M’akola Group of Societies and Seabird Island residents in British Columbia — are also included.

The study also mentions the Affordable Aboriginal Home Ownership Program, a project initiated by the Manitoba Real Estate Association to offer ownership to low-income aboriginals, that MREA is now working on. 

MREA is in ongoing discussions with aboriginals and government to formulate a program that assists in purchasing, renovating and maintaining a home.

Manitoba has the highest proportion 

of aboriginal population among the 10 provinces. According to the 2001 Canadian Census, there are 52,000 aboriginal people living in Winnipeg, which represents 3.5 per cent of the city’s total population.This percentage continues to grow since urban aboriginals have a higher birth rate than the rest of the city’s population and as people move off-reserve to the urban centre.

Statistics Canada, using 2001 Census data, said the aboriginal populations in the neighbourhoods of Centennial and Lord Selkirk Park in Winnipeg were 49.5 and 54.3 per cent, respective. Aboriginals made up slightly over 19 per cent of the inner city’s total population.

Government reports indicate that at least 17 per cent of Winnipeg’s aboriginal population lives in substandard housing that is in need of major repairs. Another roughly 15 per cent live in housing that needs at least minor repairs.

Aboriginals on-reserve in Manitoba are often described in reports as living in Third World housing conditions.

The CREA study makes a total of seven recommendations to help improve aboriginal housing in Canada:

• Aboriginals should commit to a new process as proposed in the 2006 federal budget. In return for the commitment, the federal government should commit to increased funding annually for five years, at a level that is adequate to reducing current shortages, with allocations specifically designated for housing, both on- and off-reserve. There is no justification to punish people living in unhealthy conditions while governments and aboriginal organizations get their act together.

• The federal minister of Indian and Northern Affairs should immediately assume direction and control to develop an action plan to address the problem of mould in aboriginal housing.

• The federal ministers responsible for funding aboriginal housing — the minister of Indian and Northern 

Affairs and the minister responsible for Canada 

Mortgage and Housing Coporation — must ensure that programs are responsive to the needs of local communities. Programs should not be guided by standard criteria that may prevent funding from being used where it is most needed.

• The federal government should take the initiative to establish an annual results-oriented housing conference. The conference should include aboriginal housing advocates, the federal, provincial and municipal governments and the private sector. The purpose would be to share information on what is working, what is not working and why and to monitor progress. Improved communications among the interested parties will help to ensure that aboriginal communities continue to build on the successes such as those profiled in this paper.

• The federal government and off-reserve non-profit housing providers should respond to concerns about the government’s new proposal for capital grants in a spirit of full communication and co-operation among all parties concerned. The government proposes to replace operating income top-up subsidies with a system of capital grants. The providers say the grants will not allow them to offset their operating costs.

• The provinces should “step up to the plate” with specific programs, developed in consultation with aboriginal communities, to address off-reserve housing needs. This paper documents a crisis in off-reserve aboriginal housing. Needs have been demonstrated to justify more effective provincial support. Most provinces have been reluctant even to separate out aboriginal funding from general affordable housing allocations.

• The federal government should begin the process of consultation leading to the introduction of legislation to provide a modern alternative to the Indian Act for land ownership and management that First Nations could adopt when they choose to do so.