Time for an Indigenous housing strategy

This October, Statistics Canada will release data from the 2016 long-form census that will give us a snapshot of Canada’s housing needs.  It is well understood that housing is a challenge across the country with affordability leading the list of obstacles that many Canadians face.  For Indigenous people the struggle can be even more daunting which is why New Democrats are pressing the government to do something about it.  The timing is deliberate as it has been ten years since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted.  The NDP call to action also echoes recommendations made by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA). 

It was only last March that an 11 year plan for housing, which included commitments to northern and off-reserve Indigenous populations, was spelled out in the Federal Budget. Advocates are saying that the dollar amounts are insufficient and only account for a fraction of the housing money that will be rolled out over the next 11 years.   New Democrats are telling the government that promises are not enough and that they urgently need to put words into action to ensure that Indigenous Peoples’ rights to housing are respected. 

A big reason the government funding needs to be increased relates to the fact that Indigenous populations are the fastest growing segments of the Canadian population, and almost half of them live off reserve.  Add to that the fact that urban Indigenous people are 8 times more likely to be homeless than the rest of the population and it’s easy to understand the need to create a specific Indigenous housing strategy.

The budget could have gone a long way to addressing that need because the challenges have more to do with dollar amounts than sentiment, but it didn’t go far enough.  Instead, only 225 million dollars over 11 years, or about $20 million a year will be available to tackle off-reserve Indigenous housing shortfalls.  First Nations communities will divvy up another 300 million dollars over that same period of time, but in both instances the money is far from what is needed to meet demand.

The CHRA has an Indigenous housing caucus that recognizes the large number of Indigenous led and Indigenous serving organizations who are members of the organization.  Executive Director, Jeff Morrison says that CHRA is hoping to develop a more effective and self-sufficient Indigenous Housing sector, in real partnership with Indigenous communities and the organizations that represent them. They see this as an important step in establishing a true Nation-to-Nation relationship. 

 It is worth noting that the government has committed to releasing a national housing strategy later this fall. We should also remember that the Prime Minister campaigned on a promise to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Despite that promise, Canada has yet to adopt it.  The declaration includes an article which recognizes the right to housing and affirms that States must take effective measures to ensure the sustained improvement of housing issues. New Democrats are urging the government to use the national housing strategy to do a better job of meeting the goals of that article.