Thunder Bay

Contractor promotes retrofits as partial solution to First Nation housing crisis

A contracting company working in remote First Nations says one solution to the housing crisis impacting many communities is to renovate what's already there.
This home, at Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba, is an example of existing homes that can be renovated to increase the availability of housing units on First Nations, says James Gillingham, the president of Total Construction Management and Consultants Inc. (Brian Atkins/TCM)

A contracting company working in remote First Nations says one solution to the housing crisis impacting many communities is to renovate what's already there.

Many remote communities have homes that are vacant, said James Gillingham, the president of Total Construction Management and Consultants Inc.

Gillingham's company is working in a number of remote communities, and fixes up existing buildings for its employees to stay in. Once work is complete, the home is then turned back to the First Nation for its members, he said.

 "These houses still have good bones. And, they can be renovated for half the price of buying a new home," he said.

"When we do renovate them, we turn them into a little more green, and a better product," he said, referring to upgrades in insulation, windows, metal roofs and insulated basements.

Gillingham said renovating existing structures will put a good dent in the built-up demand for housing in remote communities. He said when new homes are shipped into remote communities they don't always function as designed.

"By the time they go up the ice roads or cross the roads to them, they need to be put onto a foundation there's very little green product going into them," he said, referring to the environmental impact of shipping homes and the materials used to build them.

"It just doesn't work when the tractor trailer hauls them in they're banged up, they're cracked."

Gillingham points to the success of a home at Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba.

Workers remove insulation and siding on a home at Pine Creek First Nation, MB. A contracting company used the home for its employees while working in the First Nation, and later donated the renovated home back to the community. (Brian Atkins/TCM)

"We took one house that was abandoned, it really was a mess, we cleaned it up, now it's partially green, and it's got a screened in porch on the front," he said, noting the home was completely retrofitted and had mould issues before the renovation.

"Once we saw the one, there's another two or three that need to be done."

Looking at roofing differently could also reduce housing costs in the long run, Gillingham said, noting asphalt shingles are difficult to ship and have a relatively short life span compared to a metal roof.

Gillingham said renovations also allow local community members to complete repairs; something that is not possible when a modular home is constructed hundreds or thousands of kilometres away.

"All we need is coordination," to get renovations complete, he said.

About the Author

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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