What was once a husk of a burned out building is now housing six new affordable housing units for Indigenous people, the provincial government announced Wednesday.
The building at 274 Main Street West was gutted in a fire back in 2011, said Melanie McAulay, the executive director of Sacajawea non-profit housing, which received $660,000 from the Canada-Ontario Investment in Affordable Housing agreement to support the development.
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"With all the wind that winter, we thought it might fall down," McAulay said. Instead, the shell of the building was preserved, and the inside was totally renovated for three one-bedroom units for Aboriginal women, and three two-bedroom units for women and children.
The project was finished in February of last year, and families moved in in March of 2016. The project wasn't formally announced until today — a delay that McAulay attributed to the government side of things.
She said that residents love the building, but stressed that the need is great for affordable housing options in Hamilton both for Indigenous communities and the city as a whole.
According to a 2014 study on health outcomes for urban First Nations people, 78 per cent of First Nations adults living in Hamilton earned less than $20,000 a year. "I look at that income, and I just don't know how they do it," McAulay said. Indigenous people make up about 3.1 per cent of Hamilton's population.
"This project does help a little, but the need is more than we can provide right now," she said.
To that end, Sacajawea, which builds and maintains housing for low and moderate income Indigenous families, has plans for a 23-unit apartment complex at 18 West Avenue South, near the Clairmont Access and Main Street East. That complex would have units for women and men, McAuley said.
The organization is currently working with the city on that site, and is hoping to get construction going this month, with an eye for completion in late 2018, she said.
MPP Ted McMeekin said during Wednesday's announcement that Aboriginal housing initiatives are one of Ontario's top priorities to end homelessness by 2025.
"Once a person has a stable place to call home, they can then focus on the other parts of their lives," McMeekin said.
"We see the challenges faced in the Indigenous community to find housing."