Calgary

Calgarian wins $20K award for Indigenous housing stability research

A Calgary research project looking into how to improve housing outcomes for Indigenous residents at Horizon Housing was awarded $20,000 and the President's Medal for Outstanding Housing Research — the highest honour given by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

10 per cent of Horizon Housing’s tenants are Indigenous, but make up for 44 per cent of involuntary exits

Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant, research associate at Carleton University and president of Nick Falvo Consulting. (Submitted by Nick Falvo)

When the senior leadership at Horizon Housing, a non-profit affordable housing provider, wanted to figure out why so many Indigenous tenants were involuntary leaving their units, Calgary research consultant Nick Falvo jumped at the opportunity to get to the bottom of it.

While just over 10 per cent of Horizon's residents are Indigenous, Indigenous residents account for 44 per cent of negative, involuntary exits.

Alongside a mostly Indigenous advisory committee, and partnered with the Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, Falvo researched the issue for nine months to write a commissioned report for Horizon Housing.

"They said, 'Let's look under the hood, essentially. Let's ask ourselves the awkward questions, let's shine a light on this unfortunate reality and let's try to do better,'" said Falvo, who has over two decades of experience in the affordable housing sector.

He found that Indigenous residents at Horizon wanted to feel culturally recognized and accepted, starting with regular access to cultural programming with elders. Falvo also recommended Horizon enhance its resident orientation process and hire more Indigenous staff. 

The project was awarded $20,000 and the President's Medal for Outstanding Housing Research — the highest honour given by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Study initiated by Horizon Housing

Horizon Housing has more than 1,000 residents in Calgary who require affordable housing through 10 apartment buildings and some smaller homes.

Ellen Close, acting director of stakeholder relations at the non-profit housing provider, says the project is part of Horizon's broader focus on reducing negative exits.

"It's really important that we not only provide affordable, accessible and safe homes, but that we provide them in a way where residents can stay there long-term and it really becomes their home," she said.

Horizon View is one of Horizon Housing's 10 apartment buildings in Calgary. The non-profit affordable housing provider serves over 1,000 residents in the city. (Submitted by Ellen Close)

Close says her team works actively to prevent evictions or residents' leases not being renewed — and it was a great concern when they realized that was mostly happening with Indigenous tenants.

"We knew that we needed to really dig more deeply into why, and particularly what was our role in allowing that to happen, and where we change and improve what we do to serve Indigenous residents better."

Falvo says the Horizon Housing team was responsive at every step of his research. They encouraged him to ask important questions — even the tough and awkward ones — and not to suppress any information about the housing provider that might look negative.

The research was conducted through a grant from the Canadian Housing Transformation Centre in Montreal, acquired for Falvo by Horizon Housing.

Research includes interviews with Indigenous residents

Falvo started the research process with 15 one-on-one interviews with Indigenous residents to better understand their experiences.

"Several messages came out loud and clear, and one of them was on the need to feel more culturally accepted," said Falvo.

Close says the information shared by residents was frank, vulnerable and generous.

"Some respondents also spoke about the casual racism they experienced from neighbours within the building, within the neighbourhood, from staff," said Close.

"And then almost in the same breath, would speak about wanting not only to have access to Indigenous cultural programming, but to open it up to non-Indigenous residents."

With research like this, it's easier to figure out how to improve the issue rather than why it's happening, Falvo says, but he had one guess.

"I think several centuries of colonization in Canada really helps explain those numbers and helps explain why numbers are probably like that at a lot of non-profit housing providers," said Falvo.

The report includes a number of recommendations for Horizon Housing to implement to improve housing stability among Indigenous tenants.

Other recommendations for Horizon Housing to improve Indigenous housing stability include more opportunities to smudge without setting off fire alarms, improved staff training, an annual survey specifically for Horizon's Indigenous residents and others.

The $20,000 awarded by CMHC will go toward further research, starting with an action plan for on-site cultural programming, followed by three pilot events for the programming in the spring. It finishes off with a program evaluation going over next steps, written by Falvo in the summer of 2022.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karina Zapata

Reporter/Associate Producer

Karina is a reporter/associate producer working with CBC Calgary. She was a recipient of the 2021 Joan Donaldson Scholarship and has previously worked with CBC Toronto and CBC North. You can reach her by email at karina.zapata@cbc.ca

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