National housing non-profit calls Canadian budget ‘missed opportunity’ for northern housing

Deline, an Indigenous community in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association says a pan-northern housing strategy needs to be developed. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

It could have been a ‘fantastic opportunity’ to address northern housing over next 10-20 years: CHRA director

A national housing non-profit group says they are ‘disappointed’ no money was allocated to them in the federal budget for a pan-northern housing strategy.

Jeff Morrison, the executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), said the association’s Indigenous housing caucus has been working on a strategy with representatives from all three territories for the last couple of years.

The work came out of what they call a ‘glaring’ omission of the specific needs of Indigenous peoples off-reserve in the 2017 National Housing Strategy.

Now that the federal government is thinking about the transition to post-pandemic life, Morrison said it would make sense for them to give more attention to a housing strategy by and for Indigenous people.

“This could’ve been such a fantastic opportunity to address housing for northern Canadians for the next 10, 20 years,” Morrison told CBC. “That really was a missed opportunity.”

$25 billion needed to address Indigenous housing needs

In a committee report, the association wrote their strategy would include a national housing centre designed, run and operated by Indigenous leadership to research, evaluate and distribute funding to housing projects. Their other goals include building 73,000 new affordable housing units, providing wrap-around services to tenants and work on the root cause of Indigenous homelessness.

In this report, dated November 2020, the association asked the federal government to commit $25 billion over ten years to this work, along with $2.3 million per year to run the research centre. That would be enough, the report continues, to move all Indigenous people across the country out of core housing need.

The federal government deferred comment to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Released in April, the federal budget earmarked $25 million for affordable housing projects in both the N.W.T. and Nunavut. For the N.W.T., the government also announced a top-up of the $60 million National Co-investment Fund after the territory allocated the funds earlier that month to create 60 more housing units in smaller communities.

The budget also promised $1.5 billion in a second round of funding for the Rapid Housing Initiative — a nation-wide program that saw no successful N.W.T. applicants in the first round. The issue with this fund, Morrison continued, is that there’s no sense of how much of it will be dedicated to projects north of 60.

In a news conference after the budget, Dan Vandal, the minister of Northern Affairs, didn’t commit to setting aside some of those funds for N.W.T.-specific projects, but encouraged submissions to be put forward again.

N.W.T.-federal working group wanted, MP says 

One of the people working with the CHRA on this is Michael McLeod, the N.W.T.’s member of parliament. While he said he would have “loved” to see something allocated for it in the budget, he acknowledged it might be a bit too early.

What he wants to focus on instead is the creation of a working group with the N.W.T.’s Indigenous leaders, the territory and the federal government, so they can all find a way to get the money where it needs to go.

“We have to be very mindful of the fact that a lot of the times, programs set up for Indigenous people across the country don’t apply to us,” he said. “We have some serious challenges when it comes to flowing money North.”

A national committee on Parliament Hill has been holding meetings with experts on urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing since November. Morrison presented to that committee in January. Their latest meeting, on Tuesday, was to consider their draft report.

McLeod said it’s not clear after the report is released whether the federal government will take into account the committee’s findings and recommendations.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Canada’s PM says COVID-19 pandemic amplified housing, connectivity gaps in territories, CBC News

Finland: Report highlights Finland’s top 5 housing problems, Yle News

Norway: Population declining in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Abandoned properties a challenge for rural Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Budget cuts threaten transitional housing program in Alaska’s largest city, Alaska Public Media

Anna Desmarais, CBC News

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