Video of a rat-infested home posted online in October underscores the challenges people continue to face accessing quality housing on First Nations, a Manitoba chief says.
"It's distressing," said Lance Roulette, chief of Sandy Bay First Nation.
A man from the community, located 130 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, posted a video online in October that showed the rat infestation in his cousin's home.
Clint McIvor said he filmed his cousin Melinda McIvor's three-bedroom trailer in an attempt to raise awareness about the housing crisis on First Nations — and to get Melinda a new home.
Roulette supports McIvor's move to help spread awareness about the "deplorable" housing conditions on some First Nations.
"It's good to have that awareness out there. We definitely commend Mr. McIvor for posting the video," he said.
On Thursday, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the video shows "sad but fixable" housing issues on many First Nations.
An Ontario-based company stepped in Thursday with a promise to deliver a new house to Melinda McIvor and her family, hopefully by early December.
In the meantime, Roulette said there are plans to fix whatever they can to make the home more livable.
"Right now primarily we're only able to do some Band-Aid solutions," he said.
"We're trying to ensure that we get the essential services down there and try and bring what we can down there."
Housing issues on Sandy Bay in particular are a product of inadequate resources for the population of more than 5,000, Roulette said.
A federal report released earlier this year estimated it would take about $1.9 billion to help fix the housing issues in Manitoba First Nations. The federal government budget allocated a total of $150 million across the country for housing on reserves in 2016.
Roulette estimates about 60 per cent of all Sandy Bay residents currently live in substandard housing. Overcrowding is an issue, with some homes housing three or four families, he said.
"It really does take its toll on the unit."
Beyond the rat infestation, Melinda McIvor's home has also been plagued with sewage backups for years, which is also an issue for other residents.
Roulette said sewage issues are hard to control, in part due to a lack of sewage trucks in Sandy Bay.
Right now, the plan is to build Melinda McIvor's new place at the site of her current home, but there are concerns that simply replacing the building won't prevent the same sewage issues from bubbling up again.
Roulette said it will be important to consider other sewage disposal options, such as building new septic fields on the lot or installing new split drainage ports that would funnel waste water and sewage into separate tanks.
Work to be done
Roulette said there are plans for a 15-unit build that is expected to be done by August 2017. Construction on a fourplex is also currently underway, with plans to have it completed by March 2017.
Another two five-unit buildings are slated to be built before October 2017. Renovations on six homes and retrofit projects on 22 others are also in the works, Roulette said.
"We just completed 22 roof projects and there are going to be 22 washroom projects that are going to be underway for some of the units that are in very, very bad shape as well," he said.