Obstacles remain for Indigenous housing 

By Carl Clutchey

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A call by a provincial housing task force to build 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years includes housing on First Nations that badly need it, a provincial official confirmed on Tuesday.

But local observers say doing so may be easier said than done, due to long-standing impediments.

The recommendation to build to address a shortage of affordable homes applies to the “entire province, including on (Indigenous) reserves,” said a spokeswoman for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.

Last month, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) highlighted a medical journal report that confirmed a direct link between chronic respiratory and other ailments among Indigenous children and shoddy and overcrowded houses in Ontario’s remote north.

In a news release on Tuesday about the task force’s report, Clark said “everyone has a role to play in addressing the housing supply crisis.”

What is needed, Clark added, is the development of “practical, forward-thinking policies that unlock and fast-track all types of housing for all types of Ontarians.”

NAN has pointed to an urgent need for nearly 5,700 new homes within its territory in Northern Ontario alone.

Some might think that could spark a building boom all by itself.

But Jason Rasevych, a Thunder Bay Indigenous business leader, said there are many “challenges” standing in the way of First Nation housing shortfalls being addressed.

“Most of the issues arise from government housing policy and the (federal) Indian Act that prevents home ownership in First Nation communities,” Rasevych said in an email. “This is a colonial system that is operating in a (negative) way towards marginalized communities.”

“The other challenge,” Rasevych said, “is that housing development requires other infrastructure investments, such as water and sewer, electricity, and other utilities like heat and broadband, that are required to service new lots.”

The provincial housing task force was led by Jake Lawrence, a senior executive with Scotiabank. A recent report by the bank “found that Ontario is last in the country in the supply of homes per capita, and Canada has the lowest amount of housing per capita of any G7 country.”

Among other things, the task force said the province must make it easier to get homes built in part by “depoliticizing” the approval process, reducing development costs and “aligning efforts between all levels of government to incentivize housing.”

For new Indigenous housing projects, “the other issue is government limits on the amount provided to each First Nation that can be spent on new housing and renovations,” Rasevych said.

“First Nations require a better procurement system that supports their community needs, as well as timelines that are aligned with their population growth and comprehensive community plans,” Rasevych added.

 Carl Clutchey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of  THE CHRONICLE-JOURNAL . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

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