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HomeWorld NewsCanada newsFederal underfunding of Indigenous housing leads to years-long wait-lists, frustration

Federal underfunding of Indigenous housing leads to years-long wait-lists, frustration

Stefania Giesbrecht was hoping that by the time she finished her studies, she could move back to her community of Saugeen First Nation.

But after nine years on a wait-list, the single mother of three said she has no idea when she will be able to make the move to the community on the shores of Lake Huron near Owen Sound, Ont.

“I put myself onto the waiting list, and my mother went on the waiting list and my sister went on the waiting list,” she said.

“And none of us have got any updates.”

Giesbrecht said she wants to live on-reserve to immerse her children in their culture. That is something her mother couldn’t do as a child of the Sixties Scoop, when Indigenous children were forcefully removed from their families and placed in foster homes by child-welfare authorities.

Giesbrecht said she doesn’t blame the community leadership, often referred to as band office officials, for the lengthy wait.

But she does hold the federal government accountable for chronic underfunding that has affected generations, and makes it difficult for First Nations communities to grow in size.

“When the Canadian government intended to assimilate Indigenous people into the body politic, they had no intention of providing us housing for a bigger populace,” she said.

Canada’s housing shortage has become a major issue in federal politics as people struggle to afford home prices and rent.

But in some Indigenous communities, inadequate housing is nothing new.

Billions of dollars worth of investment needed: AFN

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) had said last year there was a need for $44 billion to address current on-reserve housing needs alone, plus another $16 billion to account for projected population growth to 2040.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu noted that figure when she told the Globe and Mail ahead of last year’s budget that she had made an “ambitious” request, although she did not detail the specific amount she had wanted to see.

The 2022 federal budget ended up committing $4 billion over seven years for building and repairing housing in Indigenous communities, including $2.4 billion over five years for housing on First Nations reserves.

Communities say the investments fall far short of what they need.

Patty Hajdu is the Indigenous Services Minister.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu says she made an ‘ambitious’ pitch for money during the lead-up to the last budget. The $4 billion over seven years that was eventually committed to Indigenous housing was far short of what’s required, communities say. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Only a few thousand people live on-reserve in Peguis First Nation, north of Winnipeg, but there is a shortage of 800 homes.

Chief Stan Bird said families are forced to live in overcrowded homes and the situation is becoming more dire.

One family of 11 is sharing a three-bedroom home, he said. Two of the people living there have chronic health conditions.

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“We’re in a housing crisis,” said Bird. “We’ve been in this position for a number of years.”

“People are tired — I’m tired,” he said. “People are growing angry.”

Still, the AFN is hoping it can close the gap before 2030.

The Indigenous advocacy organization is working with the federal government to co-develop and implement a national strategy for First Nations housing and related infrastructure.

As of August, the estimated cost to bring housing and infrastructure on reserves up to general Canadian standards is more than $342 billion, with housing alone accounting for $135 billion of that.

The lack of adequate federal investment in Indigenous housing is also a concern off-reserve.

A report by the parliamentary budget officer in 2021 found that after taking into account current programs, there was a $636-million annual gap between what Indigenous households in urban, rural and northern areas can afford to pay for adequate shelter, and the cost of obtaining it.

This year’s federal budget earmarked $4 billion over seven years, starting in 2024-25, to implement an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. that is co-developed with First Nations, Inuit and Métis. That was on top of the $300 million over five years in the 2022 budget.

But that is less than what the National Housing Council, an advisory body to the federal government, had said was needed. The council had recommended at least $6.3 billion over two years beginning in 2022-23.

In June, the federal government also announced $287.1 million of “immediate funding” to address the critical need for safe and affordable Indigenous housing projects.

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