In the last decade there have been numerous resolutions put forward providing a mandate to the Assembly of First Nations to take action on the issue of housing. Generally speaking the resolutions direct the AFN to call on the federal government to respect the jurisdictional authority of First Nations and their duly mandated representational organizations in exercising roles and responsibilities for housing.
Resolutions also call on government to respect its fiduciary responsibility to provide for housing based on the Treaty Right to Shelter. The government has taken the position that position that housing is nothing more than a social obligation and not a fiduciary responsibility based upon Treaty rights. A number of resolutions have framed the current AFN approach to housing that calls for more direct engagement of First Nations in a new National Strategy for First Nations Housing.
Key Issues and Activities
Resolution 81/2008 called for a direct and inclusive role for First Nations in the evaluation of the 1996 On-Reserve Housing Policy. The evaluation process included a critical look at the manner in which the policies, programs and activities of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (now Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada - AANDC) and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) were devised; the degree of First Nations consultation and influence in the developmental process; regional variations of interpretation of policy intent and decision making; and that the evaluation process be seen as the starting point of meaningful participation in all future activities in the renovation of the 1996 Policy in preparation for the next Treasury Board Submission and its accompanyingMemorandum to Cabinet.
After a two-year process it was acknowledged that t housing programs, activities and initiatives were developed outside of the scope of First Nation needs and priorities and had no meaningful First Nations input.
In the absence of a cohesive strategy on the part of the Government of Canada, it is incumbent on First Nations to forge a direction for the future of First Nations Housing both on and off reserve. In December 2011 AFN held a workshop to help identify the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in housing.
A National Strategy for First Nations Housing
Resolution 83/2011, Housing as a National Priority, continues previous resolutions that called for the recognition of First Nation Governments to manage and control housing and infrastructure programs from a local, tribal council, Treaty organization, or provincial/territorial organization structure.
In response, the AFN has developed a draft strategy that provides a framework for a new management and delivery structure for housing, to be discussed at the 2012 Annual General Assembly. This strategy will set out a series of general principles and objectives as well as specific commitments to provide direction and a transparent mechanism for measuring success. This is to be achieved with the engagement and consultation with First Nations and their duly mandated organizations at the local, territorial and regional levels. It is to be guided by the AFN Chiefs Committee on Housing & Infrastructure and its Technical Working Group.
A comprehensive National Strategy would include includes all aspects of housing, from social housing and the care and control of band-owned housing assets to individual and private home ownership.
Possible elements of a strategy may include:
- Facilitating the development of a Public Foundation/Non-Profit Corporation that will act as a ‘hub’ to both established and emerging housing entities that will function at the local, territorial and regional levels.
- Creating a mechanism of advice and support for the development of housing entities or ‘Housing Authorities’ that populate this First Nation Institutional Network for Housing.
- Negotiating a new funding mechanism dedicated to the First Nation Institutional Network and work to see the transition of funding for current Government of Canada housing programs, activities and initiatives to this First Nation Institutional Network for Housing.
- Developing appropriate programs, activities and initiatives to meet the housing needs and priorities of First Nations and have them delivered through this First Nation Institutional Network for Housing.
- Supporting the development of regulatory environments necessary for any First Nation to fully exercise its authority in housing.
- Identifying proven options for the means of Operational Control of Housing in First Nations and assisting First Nations in achieving the chosen option.
- Assisting in building First Nation capacities to exercise housing responsibilities successfully and sustainably. The capacities required for success would include social, human, financial and technical elements.
The strategy will recommend a multilateral partnership approach to strengthen relationships and benefit from the sharing of information and best practices. Partnerships could include industry, private sector, professional associations, unions, public foundations, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations.
AFN-Holmes Group-Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Pilot Project
The project is well underway with significant planning and early design work completed and the first stage of construction to begin this summer.
Atikameksheng Anishnawbek has gone through a Master Architectural Planning Review designed to capture all of the features of the community. This was intended to act as a starting point for the project and a foundation for Comprehensive Community Planning with the assistance of Dalhousie University and the project team.
A Conditional Assessment of the community’s existing housing stock (58 units) was undertaken to determine deficiencies related to health, safety, fire protection, structural stability and accessibility. A Specification List is being developed to determine the optimum methods and materials for the renovations of these units. This Specification will be based on cost efficiency, energy efficiency, increased durability and a healthier indoor environment for its occupants.
Architectural drawings for eight new housing units are complete and have been used as the basis for a bidding process for contracts to build this summer. A construction firm has been selected and a review of all capacity development measures necessary for local employment is underway.
Inspection Protocols are being developed for both the Conditional Assessment of Existing Housing and for the Code Compliance of New Housing. New features for these protocols include the value optimization of methods and materials, specifications with a particular focus on healthy materials and healthier indoor air quality, a view of quality assurance to ensure proper construction techniques and skills proficiency are achieved, and finally a commissioning exercise prior to occupancy to ensure the house is operating efficiently and as designed.
Work on the Housing Centre of Excellence has progressed with the development of Model Housing Policy Guidelines, which are available on the AFN website at http://www.afn.ca/uploads/files/housing/housing-policy-guide.pdf. A “Housing Authority Models” document has been written to guide the operational controls for First Nation housing. The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation has agreed to allow the Ontario First Nation Illustrated Housing Code to be used in the Housing Centre of Excellence
The development of the First Nation Green Housing Standard has begun with chapters addressing a number of key elements including:
- Assessing the current housing situation;
- Developing effective strategies for housing;
- Comprehensive community planning for housing;
- Creating a regulatory environment (codes-standards-rules-regulations-land use/zoning-policies-bylaws-permits-compliance and enforcement);
- Models of operational control for housing (governance-funding-finance-management-administration-operations and portfolio maintenance);
- Energy efficiency measures;
- Renewable and alternative energy options;
- Water and Wastewater considerations;
- Preferred construction methods and materials;
- Environmental and traditional considerations;
- Health-based specifications; and,
- Occupant awareness and training needs.
World Indigenous Housing Conference
The AFN has been working as a conference committee member of the international 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference (WIHC) along with a select group of knowledgeable, influential Indigenous housing leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. More than 1,000 Indigenous housing leaders, politicians, policy makers, corporate leaders and researchers will attend the conference, Sharing our Stories; Sharing Our Successes, which took place on June 11-15, 2012, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The WIHC is the first event to bring international leaders in Indigenous housing together to learn from best practices around the world, build a global network, and examine common themes facing indigenous housing providers.
The key goals for the World Indigenous Housing Conference were to:
- showcase best practices from around the world in on-reserve and off-reserve Indigenous housing;
- profile BC’s affordable Indigenous housing as a model others can follow;
- bring Indigenous housing providers together to teach and learn from each other’s successes;
- share tools and models for addressing challenges; and,
- build an international network of Indigenous housing providers sustained, in part, by an online network/blog following the conference.
The five key areas of focus for the conference included Health and Housing, Capacity Building, Disaster Preparedness, Governance, and Partnerships.
Visit www.indigenous2012.com for more information on the conference.
Evaluation of the First Nations Market Housing Fund
The AFN has been actively engaged in the AANDC Evaluation of the Broader Policy Implications of the First Nations Market Housing Fund (FNMHF) on the Government of Canada’s approach to housing on reserve. This study is intended to complement the simultaneous evaluation by CMHC of the relevance and performance of the FNMHF. It should be noted that there was no invitation for AFN involvement in the CMHC portion of the evaluation.
The AANDC evaluation included key-informant interviews, case studies , a literature review and document and policy analysis. The final report was completed by AANDC’s Evaluation, Performance Measurement and Review Branch and made available to First Nations following review and revision.
In its assessment of relevance, this review found that while there is a demonstrable need for market-based housing initiatives on-reserve, there is no definitive evidence that there is a need for a Fund explicitly designed for this form of credit enhancement, and no evidence that this Fund in particular will meet its stated objectives of increasing home ownership and reducing reliance on federal assistance for social housing. Home ownership and market-based housing are viewed as key approaches to improving housing quality and sustainability, however, it is clear that support for market-based initiatives generally is consistent with the Government of Canada’s priorities, and AANDC should continue to play an integral role in this regard.
In its assessment of performance, this review found that there is no evidence of tangible results to date as only two homes have been constructed using the Fund’s credit enhancement mechanism and there has been no verification of clear impacts stemming from the Fund’s capacity-building initiatives.
In its assessment of design, this review found that there is a need to prioritize capacity-building aspects of the Fund, and to revisit expectations in terms of the use of credit enhancement. The assessment of broader policy implications further suggests that there are existing options for housing on reserve, specifically:
While issues of land rights stemming from the Indian Act pose significant challenges to home ownership and market-based housing, these challenges are not insurmountable, and many communities have used innovative means of addressing these barriers.
While there is potential for the Fund to address some housing needs in the longer term, its Credit Enhancement mechanisms may not necessarily be the preferred option for market-based housing, and capacity development is likely the key to facilitating home ownership in the long term.
This review also suggests that there are several preconditions and assumptions inherent in the uptake of credit enhancement options that, when considered against the current reality in most on-reserve communities, suggest the need to reframe the strategy as more long-term and less as a means to address immediate housing needs.
In the short-term, there should be no reasonable expectation that credit enhancement itself will necessarily facilitate major reductions in the use of Section 95 mortgages. The evidence in this review found that capacity development, governance and community and individual interest in home ownership are key to addressing housing needs, and that transitional mechanisms to prepare willing communities for home ownership and reduce the reliance on social housing need particular emphasis in short-term policy planning for longer-term results.
Next Steps - Moving Forward
- Continue dialogue and development of a National Strategy on First Nation Housing for endorsement at the 2012 Special Chiefs Assembly.
- Continue to develop the Housing Centre of Excellence to support First Nation capacity to fully deliver all aspects of housing within their territories.
- Create greater awareness and understanding of First Nations critical housing needs and encourage investments and adequate resources to address these.
- Continue to support and model promising practices from the AFN-Holmes Group-Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Pilot Project.