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Indigenous housing organization looks to partner with Thunder Bay, acquire land for development

City administration in Thunder Bay, Ont., will take a closer look at a proposal by a First Nations housing organization to acquire land in the city to build affordable places to live.

Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services's request to be studied by city staff, report due June 18

City staff in Thunder Bay, Ont., will take a closer look at a request from the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services for a plot of land in the city to build supportive housing for Indigenous youth. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)
Affordable housing remains one of the biggest challenges in the City of Thunder Bay. The lack of it has been blamed for many of the city's social issues, with many groups saying if there is more housing, some social issues could subside. Last night, Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services asked city councillors in Thunder Bay to look at donating some land for housing. Justin Marchard is the group's executive director. 7:22

City administration in Thunder Bay, Ont., will take a closer look at a proposal by a First Nations housing organization to acquire land in the city to build affordable places to live.

There's a huge unmet need for current Indigenous people who are living in Thunder Bay.- Justin Marchand , Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services

Councillors heard a deputation on Monday from Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.-based organization.

The group is looking for a partnership with the city, and, ideally a plot of land — either donated or offered at a reduced price — in Thunder Bay to, initially, build 20 one-bedroom supportive housing units. The homes would primarily serve Indigenous youth.

"What we presented was options to help fill the gap for Indigenous youth housing in Thunder Bay," Justin Marchand, the executive director of Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services told CBC News.

"There's a huge unmet need for current Indigenous people who are living in Thunder Bay."

The not-for-profit organization has built rental housing, rent-geared-to-income units as well as supportive housing in several northern Ontario communities, including Greater Sudbury, Dryden, Kenora and, most recently, Sioux Lookout.
In 2012 Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services opened this housing project to meet the growing need for affordable housing in Dryden, Ont. The organization is looking to partner with the City of Thunder Bay to develop supportive housing in the city. (Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services)

The city has made similar deals before; in 2017, officials granted property to Matawa First Nations Management for use as a student residence and education centre.

A point-in-time count in 2016 identified nearly 300 people who were homeless; nearly three-quarters identified as First Nation, Métis or Inuit, Marchand said.

Marchand's organization identified four plots of land in Thunder Bay as potential sites for housing:

  • A one hectare lot near Junot Avenue and Blucher Crescent
  • A three-quarter hectare lot on Empire Avenue W.
  • A 1.5 hectare lot at the intersection of Huron Avenue and Hudson Avenue
  • A 1.2 hectare lot at Hudson Avenue and Shuniah Street, just south of the Thunder Bay Expressway

Councillors voted Monday to refer the matter to administration for study. City staff is expected to report back on June 18.

Reducing wait lists

While the proposed housing units would be for young, Indigenous people — "an identified high-risk group," Marchand said — adding to the city's housing stock will have benefits across the city.

"Development of additional housing, regardless of who it's serving, will help reduce the wait lists for all people."

Marchand said he'd like to see a multi-phase approach if the initial build goes well.  He added that, should the city ultimately give the go-ahead to the project, construction could start by spring, 2019.

"The city has recognized that safe, affordable housing is an issue, the city has recognized the need to provide the right supports to Indigenous youth who are migrating to Thunder Bay," he said. 

"So anything that we could do to partner with the city ... and any other partners out there that have the same vision and can see the same need, we'd absolutely love to hear from additional partners."