Attawapiskat sites not ready for modular homes
Dispute over control of funds, lots stalls progress on First Nations community's housing crisis
The first two of 22 modular homes promised by the federal government to Attawapiskat are on their way to the remote northern Ontario First Nations community, but the minister handling the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio is expressing concern over the "readiness" of the lots.
In a statement released Saturday, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan said he has communicated directly with the chief and council in Attawapiskat and offered them "additional capacity" to expedite the work and ensure maximum use of the winter road.
"It is imperative with the warm weather and potentially shortened winter road season that all efforts to prepare the remaining 20 sites occur as quickly as possible so that they are ready for the delivery of the other remaining homes," Duncan said.
Chief Therese Spence says the three sites are dug out and all that remains is for the gravel to be laid and for installation of hydro and sewer lines. Spence says, however, she's not sure how long this will take.
But the MP who first sounded the alarm on the crisis says site preparations have been stalled by the government-imposed third-party manager.
In a telephone interview with CBC News on Saturday, NDP MP Charlie Angus said the money needed to get the construction work underway is being "choked off" by the third-party manager.
According to Angus, a technical team and service crews have been on the ground for over three weeks but the government has "handcuffed' the council by "refusing to put up any of the funds."
Duncan refuted the accusation.
"Our government has allocated the necessary funds for this work and the third party manager has advised that he will ensure all related invoices are paid from these funds," Duncan said.
The 22 modular homes were shipped to Moosonee, Ont., in December, where they have been waiting for the ice road to be ready for heavier traffic.
They are meant to be a more permanent housing solution for the two dozen families living in tent frames and shacks.
A healing lodge in the community was converted as a temporary housing measure and the Canadian Red Cross assisted with emergency aid.
The federal government purchased the homes after the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency last fall.