Federal housing initiative supports, highlights Îyârhe Nakoda housing needs
A national housing strategy initiative by the federal government has facilitated the construction of about 50 homes across two Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation bands in recent years.
While the federal government's Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) has helped reduce long housing waitlists, officials with Chiniki and Goodstoney Nations say there is still much work to do to meet demand.
Chiniki band members in search of housing in the Nation face a waitlist of about 250 people, according to CEO Brian Evans. Raymond Greenwood, CEO of Goodstoney Nation, said they could use nearly that many houses just to fill the need for the Goodstoney community, and waitlist figures are believed to be just as long for Bearspaw Nation.
“We need 240 houses for Goodstoney, roughly – new houses,” said Greenwood. “Under COVID-19, we had about 15-20 people living in a house.
“When you’re living in a home with that many people, not only was it not great from a health standpoint, but water runs out quickly and your sewer system doesn’t last anywhere as long as it is supposed to because so many people are using it.”
The federal government recently announced it released funding of $13 million through the second round of the RHI to support the construction of 44 new affordable houses and the renovation of four others between the First Nations of Goodstoney, Chiniki, and O’Chiese – a separate Nation northwest of Rocky Mountain House.
The RHI is delivered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and aims to provide capital contributions for the rapid construction of new housing and the acquisition of existing buildings to renovate into permanent affordable housing.
It also requires investment from the applicant to qualify for housing supports based on a sliding scale, and prioritizes support for communities at greater risk of homelessness or poor living conditions.
In 2020, Goodstoney Nation applied for the first round of funding of the RHI but did not qualify due to not having enough band funds to help cover the rising costs of building materials.
While they did not qualify in the first round, the Nation managed to secure 10 homes for families in need in the second round, with a contribution of $1.6 million.
“Five of those are stick-built homes in Morley and five are rapid housing [modular] units in Bighorn,” said Greenwood. “We still need quite a bit more, but it’s been a good start.”
Indigenous households experience some of the worst housing conditions in Canada. According to the 2021 census, about 17 per cent of Indigenous peoples lived in crowded housing that was considered not suitable for the number of people who lived there.
Compared to non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous peoples were also almost three times more likely to live in a dwelling in need of major repairs.
Ready-built RHI homes come in various sizes and average about 1,200 square feet, with three bedrooms and one bathroom. They are easily transported and landed at their destination, ideally a flat piece of land close to utilities and perhaps near family members, via trailer.
Greenwood said the Nation plans to apply to the RHI again this year before applications close for phase three in March, but the Nation is limited in how much support they can request based on what they can contribute to the project. He said they will likely apply for about 10 more.
“It depends on how much a First Nation can afford to invest,” said Greenwood. “And a lot of First Nations don’t have a lot of band funds but have a great need for housing.
“If you don’t have band funds, you don’t have access to this program.”
A June 2022 CMHC report, Canada’s Housing Supply Shortages: Estimating what is needed to solve Canada’s housing affordability crisis by 2030, found Alberta needs more than 20,000 homes above the existing rate of construction by 2030.
A May 2022 research report from CMHC titled Urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing: Perspectives of Indigenous housing providers, noted key challenges for Indigenous housing were government policies, developing organizational partnerships, funding limitations and infrastructure and maintenance needs.
“Advancing improvements to Indigenous housing requires increased understanding of the needs of these households as well as the challenges Indigenous housing providers in these areas encounter in their efforts to provide safe, adequate, and culturally appropriate housing,” according to the research report.
Chiniki Nation also applied for housing support through the RHI last year and was eligible to add 40 new affordable homes for families in Mînî Thnî (Morley). They contributed nearly $1.3 million toward the project.
Evans said they have applied to have 10 more built through phase three this year. That is the most they can apply for.
“I’m not so sure that we’ll be so lucky as to get that many this year but we’ve applied for 10,” he said. “We are very happy about the ones we were able to get last year.”
The first round of RHI applications closed at the end of March 2021 and resulted in 4,792 units approved for funding, while a further 5,473 got the green light during the second round that closed a year later.
“It’s been a good initiative for us getting some of our families in need in homes quickly,” said Evans. “Housing continues to be one of the priorities of all three of the Nations – Chiniki, Goodstoney and Bearspaw.”
But, Greenwood said the RHI is clearly not enough to alone solve the community’s housing issues.
“We have the Nation’s gravel company contributing to some of these rapid housing projects, but it’d be even better if we just had our own lumber supply – then we could do it all.”
Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook