OTTAWA — The Liberals have quietly promised social housing providers who support Indigenous Peoples living off-reserve a bigger say in how billions in spending will be doled out, though not necessarily more money beyond what has already been promised.
The vow made during a housing conference in the national capital this week is designed to plug a hole in the Liberals' vaunted housing strategy — the exclusion of urban Aboriginal housing groups, who are already growing anxious about the fate of $225 million in promised federal spending set to roll out this fiscal year.
Advocates say the government failed to listen to the more than 100 urban Indigenous housing providers across the country and the vulnerable constituency they serve.
Marc Maracle, executive director of the Ottawa-based Gignul Non-Profit Housing Corp., said federal officials are struggling to figure out how organizations like his can land more of the over $40 billion set aside for housing over the next decade.
"Until we're part of that strategy and actively engaged and included and represented, then we can't say we have an Indigenous housing strategy in this country," he said.
Over half of Indigenous Peoples in Canada live off-reserve, according to the most recent census figures and statistics from the Indigenous caucus of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association show urban Aboriginals are eight times more likely to experience homelessness and live in inadequate homes compared with the non-Indigenous population.
This year's budget promised $1.5 billion in funding to address the distinct housing needs of First Nations, Inuit and Metis and promised to move the money through Indigenous organizations directly to communities, bypassing provinces and territories.
Last year's budget earmarked $225 million over 11 years to address the social housing needs of urban Aboriginals.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who is working on details of the Indigenous housing spending, said there is more work to be done to address off-reserve housing needs that "requires some unique conversations."
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who has responsibility for the government's housing file, said the first focus of talks will be to ensure that existing units aren't lost as federal funding agreements expire over the coming years.
That means money will continue to flow through provinces "until we come to another arrangement, a different arrangement, which will be even more beneficial to urban Indigenous (Peoples)," Duclos said.
Off-reserve housing providers say they plan to push the Liberals to finalize spending details before next year's election, worried that a campaign could scuttle the newly made promise.
The promise of a distinct strategy for urban Aboriginals is emblematic of an issue federal officials flagged during a Tuesday afternoon session: The national housing strategy isn't perfect, nor is it static, and it will change over time to address gaps and shortfalls as markets and needs shift.
The Liberals have set high targets for the decade-long spending plan, aimed at creating and maintaining hundreds of thousands affordable units and eventually providing direct benefits to some 300,000 households.
Duclos began rolling out details of the strategy this month, and is expected to provide further details next week.
At the same time, the Liberals are negotiating funding agreements with provinces and territories that have agreed to cost match several initiatives in the strategy, including a new housing benefit, to the tune of $7.7 billion.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., officials briefing conference delegates said the goal is to have all funding agreements signed by year's end.
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Jordan Press, The Canadian Press