AFN Housing Forum
On March 13 & 14 ,2017, I attended the AFN housing forum in Victoria, BC. The forum was attended by many chiefs, councillors and housing managers from across the province. The objective of the forum was to address issues facing First Nations across the nation in housing and infrastructure.
Some of the stats presented were staggering. It is estimated that in BC alone, 175,000 homes would need to be built to meet the needs of F/N communities throughout the province. Many communities are reporting overcrowding and mold issues and repairs are needed in 51% of first nation homes. One in five Indigenous people who live off-reserve are homeless or live in overcrowded, unsafe or inadequate housing. Despite $300 million set aside by the federal government in a trust fund for the First Nations Market Housing Fund in 2008, we are still falling behind in housing needs.
The focus of the forum was to address the lack of funding for housing and infrastructure and how to improve on management and delivery of funds to deal with these issues facing F/N communities.
From the meetings with AFN and Chiefs committee on housing and infrastructure (CCoHI) together with technicians, consultants and other government officials, has resulted in innovative discussions towards First Nations institutions that will manage Housing and Infrastructure into the future.
According to the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people:
Article 23: Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions
With the vision that “All First Nation members living on or away from their community have a right to shelter and they must be provided with an opportunity to access safe, secure, adequate and affordable housing.”
The current lack of cooperation between federal departments responsible for housing and infrastructure impairs effective program delivery and impacts the health and well-being of all First Nation communities. One of the goals of the forum was to discuss whether or not there should be a First Nations Housing Authority and if so, to draft an action plan for a F/N Housing Authority. This transfer would see the transfer of responsibilities from INAC and CMHC to F/N controlled institutions.
First Nations Housing Authority
The planning, approach and implementation of a First Nation Housing Authority would include the following key components:
The Vision for housing and Infrastructure:
- Same standard as municipalities;
- Access to equal levels of infrastructure;
- Environmental Protection and Standards
- First Nations Control/Nation to Nation;
- Higher Standard of Living;
- Culturally Relevant;
- Planning for Future;
- Community-Based; and
- Federal Recognition
Relationships with government:
- A Call for Partnership;
- Relationship Building;
- Cultural and Community Understanding Federal Commitment;
- Information Sharing
- Nation Rebuilding/Nation to Nation; Self-Determination; and
- Commitment to Capacity and Training
Finance and Funding
The main components of a new housing funding approach include increased funds for housing that are based on community needs, funds to pay for the training and certification of housing managers, and other modern tools of finance. The funding model needs to be flexible and comprehensive enough to respond to the needs of all of the First Nations no matter where they are located. There is an expectation that this model will be developed by and for First Nations with government playing the role of funder.
We as Kiahoose are in a position to play a very important part as role models to other nations. The Klahoose, through their assets from their economic developments, are in a unique position. Through the actions of our economic development corporation, QXMC, we have earned a triple A credit rating which unfortunately, not many other F/N communities can make that same claim. With this equity in our assets and investments, we have the ability to finance some of our own infrastructure and housing needs now and not have to wait for funding reform from INAC that is long overdue. We would need assurances that the government will pay us back this loan, keeping to their role and responsibilities as funder and to protect or own resourced revenue which can be retained and used for other programs in our future.
Skills and Capacity Building
There would be a need to find and build capacity and skills within our community. Equally as important as the need for training our members in construction and technical skills, is the need for management training. The community must be able to secure the employment of a qualified housing and infrastructure manager. The community would be further supported by a regional agency or Tribal council. Again this model would be based on First nations control and a full federal commitment to funding.
Governance and Delivery
The responses varied but it was generally agreed that this would be a Nation to Nation Authority and that there would need to be local, regional and national organizations, each staffed by people with identified roles and responsibilities, where construction and operations activities could be coordinated. It would need to be supported with adequate resources and skills training for the staff to do their job successfully. The local responsibility is to have skilled boots on the ground that can construct the assets to the highest standard. Many see the value of having the existing regional structures and see the need to invest and empower the current regional organizations.
There is still lots of work to do on drafting an action plan for a F/N Housing Authority. Results from this and other forums will be used to present the government our demands to set a mandate for housing. It was exciting to meet representatives and chiefs from other first nations communities and to see all communities coming together in support of a common goal. There were many discussions and ideas shared between other community members from across the province who are actively working towards building their economies. All of them had the same goal of building and managing their own wealth and not just administrating welfare and “one size fits all “programs. It was generally agreed the time is now to close the gap and start thinking outside of the box to break from the confines of dependencies so we all can be in control of our own future.