AFN Annual Report 2013

Federal programs are not meeting housing need nor are they decreasing the current backlog of housing in First Nation communities. Between 2010 and 2031, it is estimated that there will be a backlog of 130,000 units, 44% of the existing units requiring major repairs and 18% requiring replacement. Mold is prevalent in many homes. The federal government has identified a strategy to examine the presence, but not to remediate the mold. Flooding has plagued some First Nations. The federal government has displaced First Nation citizens due to flooding, some for over two years, but has not made any solid effort to assist communities in repairing their homes. 

Several Assembly of First Nations (AFN) resolutions address the critical need for safe, secure and adequate housing for First Nations. The resolutions direct the AFN to call on the federal government to respect the jurisdictional authority of First Nations and their duly mandated 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 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 which calls for more direct engagement of First Nations in a new National Strategy for First Nations Housing that is rights based.

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.

It was acknowledged that the 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.
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 grassroots, or provincial/territorial organization structure.

The AFN has developed a draft strategy that provides a framework for a new administrative management and delivery structure for First Nations housing portfolios, to be discussed at the 2013 Annual General Assembly. This strategy adheres to a rights-based approach to adequate housing for First Nations citizens in and away from the community. These rights are guaranteed through treaties, recognition of pre-existing and inherent rights, international covenants and declarations. The 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 will be guided by the AFN Chiefs Committee on Housing & Infrastructure and its Technical Working Group.

A comprehensive National Strategy includes all aspects of housing, from social housing and the care and control of band-owned housing assets to individual and private home ownership and provides particular focus on innovation in housing, high standards of construction, use of local labour and further examination of the ability to modify a real estate market in the community.
Elements of the draft strategy include:

  • Facilitating the development of a Virtual Centre of Excellence, hosted on the AFN website, that will act as the initial ‘hub’ to both established and emerging housing entities that will function at the local, territorial and regional levels. It will share existing documents that can assist Housing Managers in effectively delivering housing programs in their communities.
  • Creating a mechanism of advice and support for the development of housing entities or ‘Housing Authorities’.
  • 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 and aligning appropriate programs, activities and initiatives to meet the housing needs and priorities of First Nations.
  • 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 supports a multilateral partnership approach to strengthening relationships and promotes 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 all objectives completed or near completion. While the project has taken longer than anticipated, the work is being adopted by the entire community.

The AFN will be renewing its Statement of Partnership with the Holmes Group, as well as the Agreement in Principle between the AFN, the Holmes Group and Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation. 

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 seven new housing units are complete which were specifically designed with the climactic zone, soil and environmental aspects in mind for Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation. These designs have been used in a bidding process for contracts to build this summer.

The development of the First Nation Green Housing Standards – now referred to as the First Nations Sustainable Development Standards (FNSDS) – has begun.  It is comprised of 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.

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 Virtual 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 an updated Ontario First Nation Illustrated Housing Code to be used in the Housing Centre of Excellence.

National Housing Liaison Committee

Revitalization of the National Housing Liaison Committee commenced in late 2012, with representation from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Health Canada and the AFN. From time to time, subject matter experts will be brought in to assist in clarification or technical knowledge. 

The objectives of the National Housing Liaison Committee are to support First Nations and First Nation organizations in their housing roles and responsibilities; identify housing issues and to advise on broad policies and processes to enhance housing outcomes on-reserve including settlement lands and self-governing First Nation territories; and to provide a regular forum for exchanging information on First Nations housing matters, including recommendations to the authorities related to programs, policies and practices that will contribute to enhanced housing outcomes on First Nations.  

The AFN will press for implementation of recommendations from the 1996 On-Reserve Housing Policy evaluation.

First Nations Indoor Air Quality Committee

The AFN has been active on the First Nation Indoor Air Quality Committee, which has developed an application for First Nations to conduct a self-assessment tool for mold in housing. The electronic Community Self-Assessment Tool (e-CSAT) is undergoing a pilot stage review. It is the hoped that the application will be finalized and available for use in the coming months. The AFN is in discussions with the First Nations Information Governance Centre to house the data and generate ongoing reports at national and regional levels. This tool will help communities better understand the extent and causes of mold problems in individual houses and throughout the community, identify which houses need attention first, and organize an effective remediation strategy.

Habitat for Humanity

The AFN and Habitat for Humanity entered into a Statement of Partnership in December 2011. Since that time a working group has been established to do exploratory work on Habitat for Humanity’s Aboriginal Housing Program, which has been successfully implemented in self-governing First Nations and Métis Settlements; however, it requires flexibilities for implementation on-reserve. If successful, the program could provide an alternative housing option to First Nation communities.

Shelter Allowance

The AFN is working to seek resolution to the housing challenges created by AANDC’s non-payment of the shelter allowance under the income assistance program to clients residing in expired social housing agreement units or band-owned units that don’t have a universal rental regime in place. 

Currently, First Nations working with CMHC under the Non-Profit Housing Program (Section 95) are only eligible to receive the shelter allowance until mortgages are paid in full. If however, the First Nation implements a universal rental regime in the community, then those units are eligible to collect the shelter allowance. Similarly, band-owned or self-funded units are eligible as well to collect the shelter allowance from income assistance clients. This would allow the First Nation to collect rent from those individuals and, in turn, utilize it for maintenance, repair and potentially remediation of mold.

Next Steps - Moving Forward

  • Continue research, dialogue and improvements on the National First Nations Housing Strategy for adoption at the 2013 Annual General Assembly and ongoing implementation. 
  • Continue development of the Virtual 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.
  • Continue to support and model promising practices from the AFN-Holmes Group-Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Pilot Project. 

Assembly of First Nations