Students build tiny homes to tackle Alberta First Nation's housing crisis

A southern Alberta First Nation is testing out a tiny home pilot project in the hope of both tackling its housing crisis and setting up high school students for careers in the trades.

The program helps youth learn about trades while providing homes for seniors

Chief Stanley Grier, Jay Noel and Joyce Little Moustache and supporters break ground on the tiny home project on Piikani First Nation. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

A southern Alberta First Nation is testing out a tiny home pilot project in the hope of both tackling its housing crisis and setting up high school students for careers in the trades.

On Wednesday, Piikani Nation broke ground on the federally-funded pilot program. Over the coming eight weeks, a dozen high school students from ages 15 to 18 will work from the ground up to build a one-bedroom tiny home for a local elder.

"We're giving these kids an experience as a team, empowerment, pride and a sense of community," said Jay Noel, the program manager and business development community partner with Your Choice Homes.

Jay Noel is in charge of the pilot program. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

Noel said the project gives students future apprenticeship hours, a high school class credit and a paycheque.

"The cool thing about the tiny house build is it still goes through every ticketed and non-ticketed trade, and every module is a segment of the build so they're going to get exposed to every career option in building a house," he said. "So we're going to inspire the kids with a few ideas of what they can do in the future."

Sixteen-year-old Jerez Whitecow said while he's excited to get paid and get a class credit, he's mostly excited about the experience.

"I'm going to try and be the best builder out there, I always wanted to be a carpenter or mechanic when I grow up," he said.

Jerez Whitecow is excited to gain experience as a builder. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from Indigenous Services Canada. It has already been tested in Saskatchewan.

Byron Jackson, chief executive of Piikani Nation, said there is an increasing need for housing in the community.

"With 418 homes and about 2,500 to 2,700 people residing here on the nation, the math speaks for itself. Not enough homes," he said. "A housing crisis here on Piikani is something that has been looked at for a long time."

Jackson said price, and utility-cost are some of the benefits the council will be looking at with the tiny-home project.

Joyce Little Moustache is excited that she'll soon have a tiny home of her own. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

He described Joyce Little Moustache, the elder who will be moving into the first home, as a respected member of the community.

Little Moustache said she can't wait to move in.

"I feel very excited and I think I'll be overwhelmed when it happens," she said.

With files from Reid Southwick