British Columbia

Concerns mount over federal government's Indigenous housing contest

A contest for First Nations communities to win $30 million to go toward innovative housing projects has been referred to by one critic as the "Hunger Games of on-reserve housing."

Contest for communities to win $30 million toward housing projects called 'Hunger Games of on-reserve housing'

Statistics Canada found that 20 per cent of First Nations people live in over-crowded homes. (Government of Canada)

The Canadian government will launch a contest this fall for First Nations communities to win $30 million toward innovative housing projects on reserve.

The Indigenous Homes Innovation Challenge has been billed by the federal government as a national competition designed to help close the housing gap for First Nations people on reserves.

Critics call contest demeaning

But the concept is drawing some negative attention from the public — it's been referred to as the "Hunger Games of on-reserve housing," by advocate Arnell Tailfeathers.

"This issue of housing and poverty is not to be relegated to something as demeaning as a contest in order to win prize money," said Mary Teegee, chair of the Delegated Aboriginal Agencies Provincial Forum.

"I do believe that, while however well-intentioned it may be, it absolutely misses the mark of dealing with the issues, which is really that housing issues within First Nations communities, they're at a crisis point."

The concept is drawing some negative attention from the public — it’s been referred to as the, “Hunger Games of on reserve housing” by advocate Arnell Tailfeathers. (Government of Canada )

 'Pronounced' difference in on-reserve living conditions 

Housing is an ongoing issue for First Nations reserves. In 2016, Statistics Canada found that one in five Indigenous people were living in a home that was in need of major repairs.

The census that year showed that on-reserve Indigenous people's homes are more likely than those off-reserve to need major repairs, and that there was a "pronounced" difference in living conditions for those living on reserve compared to those off.

Statistics Canada also found that 20 per cent of First Nations people live in over-crowded homes.

Federal minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott told CBC's Angela Sterritt that this initiative is not only a way for communities to get access to initial funding, it will also open up a dialogue for communities to access for continued resources.

"We see this as an opportunity to support innovation, to support communities, to encourage creativity and to be able to make sure that those fantastic solutions that are there in communities get additional access to the resources that they need."

"It all really depends on how the federal government approaches it," said Garry Merkle, executive director of the First Nations Housing and Infrastructure Council.

"If the federal government tries to do this as an in-house thing, without working with First Nations on the design and implementation of this … then I think it's going to have a serious risk of failing."

Applications will open up in the fall, and will close in winter 2019.

With files from Angela Sterritt​

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