The key to aboriginal homeownership

The Housing Opportunity Partnership (HOP) is seeking its fourth housing market gap agreement with the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative (WHHI). Hop’s goal is to continue its important reclamation work in Winnipeg’s West End and potentially in other inner city neighbourhoods. HOP can speak proudly o its 10 years of pioneering local affordable homeownership that it works. 

The value of homes in Hop’s targeted area have gone up nearly fourfold. Prior to HOP — or other housing efforts led by the Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA), Lazarus Housing and the Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation getting actively involved in the West End — the average MLS® house sale price was in steady decline. It was apparent the situation had deteriorated to the point that neighbourhood disinvestment was becoming more the norm and some homes were already in irretrievable decay. 

Something had to be done.

Homeownership is at the heart of renewing a neighbourhood — there is no better incentive for instilling a sense of responsibility and pride for people living in an area. Not only are residents concerned about maintaining what may well be the largest investment in their life, but this same objective spreads to the homes in the area.

HOP has invested over $3.5 million to bring about significant housing and neighbourhood improvements to the West End (see grid map at 

Other area housing initiatives such as the Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) and Lazarus Housing have also made significant contributions to housing rehabilitation and homeownership. Like HOP, the groups also understand how valuable homeownership is to stabilizing a block, street and neighbourhood. 

In addition, the SNA has been a strong proponent of homeownership training for first-time buyers in partnership with other inner-city housing organizations.

One group of buyers who have bought homes from HOP and from other area housing initiatives are aboriginals, who welcome the opportunity to acquire affordable housing and see the benefits of homeownership for their family. Homeownership allows them to establish roots in a neighbourhood and provide stability for their children’s schooling and other family activities. They also want to reap the benefits of an investment that can appreciate over time.

The founder of HOP, Cliff Palmer, WinnipegREALTORS® 1995 president, had a compelling vision that became a reality through hard work and dedication. 

Now 2002 WinnipegREALTORS® president, Lorne Weiss, is making a strong case for the value of homeownership helping aboriginal people. He is currently heading up the Canadian Real Estate Association’s federal affairs committee. He is also a director with the Manitoba Real Estate Association.

The following article from CREA details the current effort on aboriginal housing. It has direct local application through a special pilot aboriginal homeownership off-reserve program led by the Manitoba Real Estate Association and most notably by Harry De Leeuw, a past-president of all three levels of organized real estate.

Capacity building key 

to aboriginal homeownership

The federal government’s proposed First Nations Market Housing Fund will only be effective if it strengthens the capacity of bands and their members to expand homeownership, according to Lorne Weiss, Canadian Real Estate Association director and chair of its Federal Affairs Committee.

Weiss outlined CREA’s position in consultations with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) on the proposed fund at a press conference held in conjunction with the CMHC Aboriginal Housing Symposium. The fund stems from the Harper government’s promise in its 2007 budget to dedicate $300 million to develop housing markets in First Nations communities.

Expanding aboriginal homeownership will take support for capacity building among First Nations that currently lack the tools and expertise, said Weiss. “Without it, the First Nations Market Housing Fund will risk putting the cart before the horse.”

Weiss pointed out that most First Nations with the capacity to use a revolving loan fund or mortgage insurance are already working with the banks to support a form of ownership. 

Accompanying Weiss at the press conference was Ron Jamieson who, as senior vice-president at BMO Financial Group, developed a model for mortgage lending on reserves that is growing rapidly — without government funding.

While CMHC has raised the question of capacity development, no information has been provided on whether any part of the $300 million would be allocated for that purpose. As outlined in consultation documents, the money would serve as a mortgage insurance fund of last resort to encourage more on-reserve lending.

Weiss cautioned Ottawa against adopting a national “one-size fits all” approach to the proposed fund. 

“Our research for World Urban Forum III last year showed that broad generalizations of policy, imposed by Ottawa, led to some of the housing problems that plague aboriginal communities today,” he said.

The key to aboriginal housing success is full community involvement in the planning and development of housing, he added.

CREA welcomes the government’s initiative to encourage aboriginal homeownership, Weiss said. “We believe this is the first time federal policy has promoted the benefits of home ownership for aboriginals.” 

However, he urged the government to consider how the $300 million can best be used to build on solid foundations already laid down by First Nations people working with lenders.

CREA raised a number of other questions in consultations that also need addressing:

Who benefits from the fund?

The Market Housing Fund is to be used only as a last resort, following default by both an individual and the band. As the $300 million fund collects interest, where will that interest go and for what purpose? It should have to be reinvested in aboriginal housing.

How will the fund be administered?

There is a requirement to assess and qualify bands to be eligible for the fund. At present, the banks do their own qualifying and assessments of risk. Who is going to perform this new administrative function and how onerous will it be?

Who will guarantee security of land tenure?

Security of tenure is fundamental to home ownership. The consultation paper suggests the bands will be left to deliver this guarantee. 

How does the government plan to assess the stability of band councils with respect to providing land tenure? 

Women living on reserves have no property rights. The government has initiated consultations aimed at resolving this long-standing injustice, but until this fundamental issue is settled, there can be no security of tenure for half the targeted population.

Weiss said MREA is developing a program to provide assisted homeownership to aboriginal people living off-reserve in urban Manitoba. The Manitoba government has committed $250,000 to support a pilot project that MREA expects to launch in 2008. This program has potential applications in urban areas anywhere in Canada.

The Canadian Real Estate Association represents the interests of 90,000 members who are active in all aspects of the real estate industry. For most Canadians, ownership of a home is their biggest investment and the key to financial well-being. CREA members advise and assist Canadians in buying and selling homes.