By Miranda Leybourne
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A national housing advocacy organization has launched the public engagement phase of a new urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy on behalf of the federal government to address systemic housing issues facing Indigenous people.
Improving the quality, supply and affordability of housing for Indigenous peoples is the motivation behind the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s strategy, for which Ottawa earmarked $300 million in Budget 2022.
The corporation is undertaking the first phase of the plan in conjunction with the National Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and strengthening the social and non-profit housing sector, according to a release issued by the CMHC this week.
In 2021, more than one in six Indigenous peoples lived in crowded housing that was considered unsuitable for the number of people who lived there, according to Statistics Canada. That year, just over 16 per cent of Indigenous peoples lived in a dwelling that needed major repairs, three times the rate of non-Indigenous people.
Kim Beaudin, vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents Metis, status and non-status Indigenous people and southern Inuit people living off-reserve, hopes the strategy will find a way to address housing-related issues facing Indigenous people, such as homelessness and access to clean and safe rental spaces.
Nearly three per cent of Canadian adults have experienced periods of homelessness, StatCan says. That number is closer to 15 per cent when it comes to “hidden homelessness,” which means the experience of having to temporarily live with family or friends for lack of other options.
First Nations people living off-reserve are 12 per cent more likely to have experienced homelessness than the country’s non-Indigenous population. Similarly, Metis people are six per cent more likely, and Inuit people are 10 per cent more likely.
Housing issues have long beleaguered Indigenous people in Canada, a byproduct of colonization and displacement caused by residential schools, Michael Yellow Bird, dean of the University of Manitoba’s social work faculty, wrote in a report.
Forced relocation, a loss of sovereignty and decades of underfunding have also contributed to the housing crisis facing Indigenous people. Poor housing, in turn, is connected to major mental and physical health issues, poor education outcomes and higher rates of suicide, Yellow Bird wrote.
Home affordability is something both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people struggle with, yet the federal government has failed to prioritize this issue, Beaudin said.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of focus on home ownership for First Nations people and Metis people especially within urban areas.”
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will gather ideas for its housing strategy in an online survey that will be open for submissions until March 31, as well as through written submissions via email or mail.
The corporation will also consult Indigenous groups that represent people living in urban, rural and northern areas, including advocacy and non-profit organizations. Engagements are expected to wrap up in spring, with a summary available later this year.
According to a spokesperson, the CMHC has engagement agreements with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Metis National council, Manitoba Metis Federation, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples as well as Native Women’s Association of Canada and is in the process of finalizing others.
Miranda Leybourne is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the
BRANDON SUN. The LJI program is federally funded.