ONPHA’s Plan for Urban & Rural Indigenous Housing in Ontario

Written by Kiefer Maracle

August 5, 2020

In May of 2020, the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) announced the release of their Urban & Rural Indigenous Housing Plan for Ontario. The report quantifies the need for more off-reserve housing and includes six actions to support the Indigenous housing sector’s transition to meet this dire need. This blog post will briefly outline the plan’s findings for Indigenous housing need and the actions it recommends. ONPHA’s Urban & Rural Indigenous Housing Plan for Ontario sets out to accomplish a similar goal for the Indigenous Housing sector by quantifying the need for more off-reserve housing and six actions required to support this sector’s transition to fulfil this need.

The Urban & Rural Indigenous Housing Plan for Ontario was commissioned by ONPHA and written by Daniel J. Brant and Associates. The report calls on federal and provincial governments to collaborate with Ontario’s Indigenous housing sector to address the off-reserve core housing need in Ontario over the next 10 years. The authors present the historical, legal, and socioeconomic context for their research before quantifying the need for at least 22,000 more Indigenous-owned and operated units with culturally appropriate wrap around supports.

“Though the share of Aboriginal households in CHN declined from 2006 to 2016, the number of Aboriginal households in CHN grew by 36,690 households due to strong population growth. However, this figure was dwarfed by the much greater increase of 179,185 additional households living above standards. While the housing conditions of Aboriginal households have improved at a quicker pace than non-Aboriginal households, the incidence of CHN for Aboriginal households remained significantly higher than non-Aboriginal households (see above)” – Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2019). The housing conditions of off-reserve Aboriginal households.

The plan also presents a costed business case demonstrating how a $7.3 billion investment into the required construction program would create the 22,000 needed units, as well as 95,000 years’ worth of employment, and nearly double the initial investment to $14.3 billion. Building on their findings, the authors propose the following six calls to action that governing bodies can take to address the need and help Ontario’s Indigenous housing providers build their sector’s capacity.

1. Set out a 10-year housing program to build the required 22,000 subsidized Indigenous-owned and operated units to address core housing need;

  • This action will not only allow the sector to build their capacity to meet current and future needs it will also have a myriad of social and economic returns to Ontario.

2. Provide a support plan to encourage Indigenous people to move along the housing continuum;

  • The authors expressed that in their research it appeared that the current support system lacks administrative resources. Through the growth of the sector, there would be an increase in administrative capacity. The authors argue that this capacity should be consciously directed towards the integration of support mechanisms such as skill development and educational upgrading. Enabling this framework would enable the Indigenous tenant population to move within the housing continuum.

Wheelhouse variant of the Housing Continuum Source: CMHC (2019)

3. Develop support programs and ensure cultural continuum;

Culture is a strong force within the identity of Indigenous people and the authors present the need for wrap around supports to incorporate a cultural relevance. They argue that in many instances, the staff of housing providers act as a first point of contact for support assistance. This creates a need for training and education for these front line staff. Building on the successful programming of the Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound program the team identifies a further need to formally integrate similar cultural support programs within Indigenous housing that speak to the needs of tenants. This work should be carried out in partnership with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centers to ensure a broad range of supports can be offered even beyond the capacity of the providers themselves.

4. Engage the Indigenous community housing sector to leverage opportunities to increase Indigenous control, management, vision and direction in the sector leading towards the implementation of the Urban and Rural Indigenous Housing Plan for Ontario;

  • The report calls for the creation of an Indigenous led province-wide housing support organization that represents and advocates for the current 56 urban and rural Indigenous housing providers and their diverse needs. In the current system, the Indigenous housing sector lacks control over its resources and providers have been left trying to coordinate sectoral activities on top of their organizational duties. This leaves little time and resources to achieve systemic coordination and growth. This work could be accomplished by a dedicated organization freeing up the time of providers to do what they do best.

5. Develop a comprehensive database of the Indigenous community housing sector;

  • There currently exists a substantial lack of standardized data sets for Indigenous housing. This gap in data limits forecasting ability and sector wide planning. The authors request the creation of a community-supported housing database to address this shortfall.

6. Leverage opportunities to engage the private sector through the use of tax and other incentives.

  • Affordable and social housing provide benefits to local business as well as the social fabric of our communities. These benefits should be sought by all levels of business not just the public sector. The authors advocate for the implementation of a tax benefit system that could incentive Private-Public partnerships to develop housing at a substantially faster rate than simply relying on the public sector. They present examples such as the dollar for dollar Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) in the US that has incentivized the creation of 3-million housing units in the last 30 years. Similar tax credit systems already exist in our province for the creation of other public benefits such as the Brownfields grant. The authors argue that this should be studied as a potential avenue for future development.

Collectively, these six actions present a horizon of activity in Ontario that, if acted upon, would generate the required Indigenous housing, a substantial return on investment and better long-term social outcomes for our communities.

The authors created their plan of action through the use of data from both Statistics Canada and the Canadian Housing Renewal Association, as well as information collected through interviews with Indigenous housing providers and by completing a comprehensive literature review. Their arguments stress that action must be taken now to fulfill the social and legal obligations of our government to our Indigenous population living off-reserve.

I am personally delighted to see ONPHA’s plan laid out so concisely and supported with actionable measures. For Cahdco’s part within the sector, we see it as our role to help housing providers across the province create project opportunities and determine their financial viability. Our team has extensive experience in coordinating access to project funding through federal and provincial programs such as CMHC’s RCFI and Co-Investment programs. We continue to manage the successful development of cutting-edge affordable housing and supporting our clients’ needs. I look forward to the opportunity to help support the development of these required units when these calls to actions are implemented.

I would encourage you to read the full report and check out ONPHA’s six recommendations at the link below:

ONPHA’s Urban & Rural Indigenous Housing Plan for Ontario

Kiefer Maracle

Project Manager

August 5, 2020