Auditor General Report Confirms Canada Must Change Approach to First Nations Housing

THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler says that this week’s report by Canada’s Auditor General that the federal government is failing to meet housing commitments to First Nations confirms that Canada must change its approach to housing.

“This Report confirms our own research that the federal government’s approach to First Nations housing is simply not working. The failures documented by the Auditor General are life and death matters for our citizens living in crowded and inadequate housing. This is costing lives and has had a severe impact on health outcomes for our members, especially in remote communities,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “I strongly urge our federal Treaty partner to refocus its approach to housing with full engagement by our leaders and funding that meets the needs of our communities.”

Key findings and NAN housing needs:

  • Insufficient action is being taken to close the housing gap on reserve by 2030. Without a plan this goal is impossible to achieve, and health and well-being on reserve will continue to suffer.
    • The investment made to date falls well short of what is known to be required to close the gap which is at least $5.5 billion in NAN territory, plus required infrastructure.
  • Recognition that housing being built is often substandard or low quality, resulting in persistent mould growth.
    • NAN emphasizes the need for higher standards in the North to reflect climate and geography. Building higher quality housing will increase the life of a house, reducing the need for repair, creating a healthier living environment, and decrease long-term costs.
  • Communities with the greatest needs do not receive the funding they require.
    • Continued reliance on application-based funding programs deepens this inequity in NAN territory where capacity does not always exist to pursue onerous applications.
    • The NAN-specific Housing Strategy recommends a significant reduction of barriers to funding and direct, long-term commitments to communities who need it most.
  • Capacity development and the need for dedicated housing staff recognized as a priority.
    • This is in line with the NAN Housing Strategy, which recognizes the development of a skilled labour force as crucial to long-term sustainability.
    • Lack of capacity also impacts communities’ ability to apply for funding programs, effectively manage housing assets, and plan for future development.
  • Caution against the use of only provincial/regional assessments of housing need and cost given challenges in the North.
    • While some areas of Ontario experience lower rates of crowding and need for major repair, they remain extremely high across NAN territory.
    • 40% of houses in NAN territory are in need of repair, compared with 5.7% across Ontario. There are an average of 3.7 people per home across NAN, compared with 2.6 province-wide.
  • Lack of planning and direction in housing, including transfer of care and control, follows the decades old ad hoc approach by governments towards on reserve housing.
    • NAN has developed a plan to address the housing emergency and welcomes collaboration and partnerships to implementing the NAN Housing Strategy.
    • This will not be achieved with further study or insufficient programs, but by following community direction and leadership.

A NAN-wide Housing State of Emergency was declared by NAN Chiefs in 2014 following years of deplorable housing conditions that have contributed to severe health issues exacerbated by overcrowding and mold. This crisis was reaffirmed in 2018 with the development of a community-based housing strategy through a research partnership between NAN and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Together Design Lab.

The NAN Housing Strategy is a three-year project creating occupant-focused housing assessments, determining localized housing need, and developing housing action plans and solutions at the community and regional level. Centred around First Nations knowledge and lived experience, the Strategy will support and advocate for First Nations self-determination in the planning, governance and design of housing systems.

Several challenges identified in the Report have been identified through the NAN Housing Strategy, including the need for capacity development in the management and operation of housing programs, the need for funding reforms to create predictable streams for communities in greatest need, and the need to improve the standard of building.

Auditor General Report:

NAN Housing Strategy:

For more information please contact:
Michael Heintzman,
Director of Communications
Cell: (807) 621-2790

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