The Harper government defended the overall goal of its $300-million First Nations housing fund today, but was silent on the program's weak performance so far — just 99 homes built on reserves after six years.
The First Nations Market Housing Fund was supposed to deliver 25,000 privately owned homes by 2018, but fund officials now say they won't even come close to that ambitious target even as populations on reserves boom.
"We want to see First Nations individuals to be able to have the pride, the security and the financial stability that comes with owning their own home," said Candice Bergen, minister of state for social development.
"Of course, we always review programs to ensure that they meet the goals required, but we think it's important that First Nations individuals can own their own home on reserve. That's why we created this fund."
Bergen was speaking in the House of Commons, where New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash called the fund "another ineffective program that has only funded another bureaucracy." Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said the government "has failed miserably" to alleviate a huge housing crisis on reserves.
A CBC News investigation found that the fund has grown through investments to be worth about $344 million since it was created in 2008 and currently spends about $4 million annually for administration.
John Beaucage, chair of the fund's board of trustees, acknowledges progress has been slow, but says the program is gaining momentum.
Critics say creating private ownership of homes on remote reserves can be difficult, as First Nations members often lack a credit history and steady income, and there is no thriving local housing market to sell into if owners want to move.