By Ally Dunham
Lack of housing was at the top of the priority list during a recent gathering of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) chiefs in Thunder Bay. Plans for new construction ranged both on and off reserve.
“According to the last website data from INAC (Indian Northern Affairs Canada), there was 5,000+ shortage of homes in 49 First Nation communities of NAN,” said Deputy Grand Chief Les Louttit. “We’ve done a costing using CMHC’s 2009 costing model and that would come to approximately $1.2 billion at today’s prices of lumber and materials, transportation, etc. That does not include infrastructure, water, sewer, roads, power which is probably another $2 million.”
Attawapiskat First Nation in the Timmins area is currently pleading to federal and provincial government for assistance for their housing crisis, which has been declared as a state of emergency. They have created a YouTube video showing residents, including children and elders, living in sheds, with no appropriate housing available.
NAN is currently building a business model that would create housing, revenue as well as jobs for their local residents.
“What we’re trying to do is to set up an entity that would be business driven as opposed to socially driven. Not a non-profit organization but a business corporation which will derive revenues to be reinvested into the housing and infrastructure for the NAN First Nations,” said DGC Louttit. “We would be building detached units, possibly two, four and six-plexes, in the communities. That is our immediate priority. We do have a plan for an off-reserve component because of a lot of our people relocated into the cities for health reasons, education and they need houses, so we will be looking at those opportunities for them.”
NAN says they will assist communities in maintaining the existing housing stock to provide for community needs as well as job creation and will look at all aspects of revenue from this housing model, as many communities currently do not collect rent, or do not receive the shelter allowance component for rents available through social assistance.
A partnership with the NAN Housing and Infrastructure Corporation would collect rents, provide services to each community, while providing returns to each community.
NAN reports that the individual Tribal Councils would be involved in the coordination of providing housing, along with members of the communities. Staff report that a main benefit will be for NAN communities to lead in the planning, construction, and operations of housing and infrastructure.
NAN reported that new infrastructure design will occur to ensure proper services and to increase jobs in infrastructure. The organization currently has a plan with Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, for a research project to investigate alternative infrastructure.
NAN has applied for a feasibility study for a business plan developing a comprehensive plan to begin implementation of this initiative. They report working with FedNor, INAC as well as the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to financially support the project. The organization also reports they are working with the Confederation College in Thunder Bay to develop appropriate housing training programs within this strategy.