Assembly of First Nations says $350B needed for housing, infrastructure

AFN report

A new report from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) says $349.2 billion is needed to fix housing and other infrastructure after decades of “underfunding, failed fiduciary duties, and unfair distribution of Canada’s wealth as a country.”

The report, prepared with the federal government department of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), was released Tuesday and signals what the AFN will be looking for in the upcoming federal budget on April 16.

“The federal budget request outlined in this historic First Nations-led report is a fully substantiated cost estimate based on years of AFN technical studies, First Nations engagements, and decades of ISC records,” according to the report, Closing the Infrastructure Gap by 2030.

The year 2030 is referenced because the Liberal government pledged to “close the housing gap” by then – something Canada’s auditor general says is highly unlikely.

Karen Hogan, in a scathing review released March 19, said ISC and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) – an arms-length agency that funds housing – have made “little progress” repairing and building new housing in First Nations.

Hogan said that ISC and CMHC “have been mandated to work with First Nations to meet their housing needs by 2030. We found that 80% of these needs were still not met with 7 years left before 2030.”

First Nations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have been shortchanged by $274 million, Hogan said, because CMHC used outdated data to determine funding.

Neither ISC, CMHC nor Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will say whether those nations will receive compensation.

The AFN report expands the underfunding theme to include “education, healthcare, connectivity, and other capital buildings and services across First Nations communities.”

Infrastructure includes housing, water systems, road access, climate adaptation, connectivity and accessibility.

AFN lists the financial infrastructure needs in each province and territory as: British Columbia, $70.7 billion; Ontario $58.9 billion; Saskatchewan $50.8 billion; Alberta $49.3 billion; Manitoba $48 billion; Quebec $28.1 billion; Northwest Territories $17.8 billion; Atlantic Canada $15 billion and Yukon $10.6 billion.

Past issues are present issues

The Closing the Gap report said of an estimated 85,700 existing housing units, 34 per cent require minor repairs and 31 per cent require major repairs and “an additional 108,803 housing units are needed to address overcrowding, replacement, and population growth.”

The report claims as of July 25, 2022, “there were still 31 long-term and 14 short-term drinking water advisories in effect on 43 on-reserve communities across Canada, down from 105 in November 2015.”

It said “202 First Nations schools are overcrowded and require additions; 56 First Nations schools require immediate replacement based on reported poor conditions.”

It estimates that First Nations on-reserve populations are expected to grow at an average of 1.7 per cent per year compared to Canada’s growth rate of about 1 per cent.

“Most building, utility, transportation, and housing infrastructure cannot accommodate such growth and requires immediate upgrading and long-term planning to ensure the continued functionality of on-reserve community infrastructure for First Nations,” said the report.

“First Nations people accounted for 28% of the homeless population in the 44 communities that reported on the number of First Nations people experiencing homelessness, whereas they represent only 2.0% of the population in these communities. First Nations people are also over-represented in the shelter system, especially in the Prairies, where 68 per cent of shelter users are identified as Indigenous.”

Poor housing on reserves means homelessness in cities

This is an issue addressed by Canada’s Housing Advocate in her report released in February.

“Manitoba reported that in Winnipeg in 2018 two-thirds of people experiencing homelessness were Indigenous and that number climbs to 94 per cent in Thompson,” Marie-Josée Houle told APTN in an interview. “In Saskatoon an estimated 90 per cent of people experiencing homelessness are Indigenous.

“In Edmonton, it is 60 per cent and in Prince George, it’s 80 per cent. So, there’s a huge disproportionate representation of Indigenous folks experiencing homelessness in Canada.”

Houle released a new report on tent encampments across Canada this week with recommendations on how the government could tackle the problem.

She asked the government to respond with a plan by August 31.

Houle told APTN the housing issues on First Nations are directly related to homelessness in urban areas.

“What we’re hearing from people with lived experience of homelessness and housing precarity in urban centres that have been living in community and are now in encampments from coast to coast to coast is that the housing conditions on reserves is one of the big reasons why they end up moving or being stuck when they migrate to larger centres for education or medical services and then they can’t go back,” she said.

There are also questions about whether the federal government is listening.

At a meeting in late March, Houle and AFN housing portfolio holder and regional chief Brendan Mitchell were invited to Ottawa to speak to ministers about the housing issue.

Mitchell told APTN that a number of ministers were invited – but none attended the meeting.
Houle said that’s a problem.

“That meeting in a lot of ways was very unfortunate because we had a regional chief and a chief come from so far away with the understanding that ministers were going to be present and they all cancelled at the last moment – that being said they did send staff and they did send [a] Parliamentary secretary,” said Houle. “We talked for two hours and we did not get a sense of a commitment or any signals of any commitment in any way but I think everyone left feeling as if they were being heard.

“This is not just an issue for Minister [Patty] Hajdu and Minister [Sean] Fraser … it can’t be just on the shoulders of the housing minister and the minister of Indigenous services but they need to start by showing up and bringing minister with them.”

First Nations control of infrastructure

Along with a long-term plan to fund infrastructure, the AFN is also seeking to transfer the control of infrastructure projects to First Nations.

The “AFN and ISC will co-develop a road map for the research, design, and implementation of new comprehensive infrastructure systems that will lead to a complete federal government withdrawal and a full transfer of service authority from the federal government to First Nations for the self-governed care, control and management of their own housing and infrastructure,” it’s report said.

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