Old ways of housing 'just not working'

A housing strategy summit is winding down after two days of discussion about community-based solutions to the housing crisis across Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory. The Nishnawbe Aski Nation Housing Strategy is a three-year project aimed at determining housing needs and developing housing assessments and action plans. The strategy is centred around First Nations' lived experience and knowledge while supporting First Nations' self-determination in the planning, governance and design of housing. Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler welcomed chiefs and councils, elders, and housing and infrastructure professionals from across their territory to discuss the strategy at their group's housing summit. He said Canada needs to "change everything" with its approach to improving housing on reserves. "The old way of doing business, the old funding structures and the old designs are just not working and in fact, they're contributing to the growing gaps that we are seeing in all our communities," Fiddler said. "I think it needs a total reset." During the summit, new approaches and designs, developed by the strategy team were unveiled. The designs targeted specific demographics or groups in the communities and included elderly housing, one- to four-bedroom family homes, better heating systems, and building materials that will last longer. "Our communities are coming up with all these innovative and exciting solutions, including the financing side, and they know that there are better ways of purchasing materials, transporting them to their communities and new ways of doing construction and training," Fiddler said. "There's a whole multitude of creative solutions, and we saw some of that this week." Fiddler said planning to build within a yearly cycle is one of the challenges faced by northern communities. He said they purchase material that needs to be hauled up on the winter roads and then built in the summertime, adding they were fortunate this year that the winter roads, for the most part, held up. "That's always a worry, especially as we see the change in the weather, the climate and the changing environment," he said. Fiddler says in the 32 remote NAN communities, there is a dire need for the construction of 7,500 new homes. Along with that, the supporting infrastructure will be needed to make that possible. "Power is an integral part of this strategy and . . . water and sewer systems are another challenge that we have, as we're moving this strategy forward," he said. The federal government announced $9 billion in their proposed new budget this week for Indigenous communities, to narrow housing and infrastructure gaps over the next five years.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal