Ryerson partners with First Nations communities to tackle housing crisis

Ryerson University is teaming up with Indigenous communities across the province to figure out a strategy to combat a "desperate" housing crisis.

Toronto-based project will get extensive input from province's Indigenous communities

Ryerson professor Shelagh McCartney, left, and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Chief Alvin Fiddler are in Toronto to launch a new collaborative project to create a better housing strategy for Indigenous communities. ( Gary Asselstine/CBC )

According to Canada's most recent census, almost half of the housing in Ontario Indigenous communities is in need of major repairs.

But some say there is a disconnect between what these communities need and what governments think they need.

"The one thing we've realized from the last couple of years working in the North is that there is a housing crisis the government defines and there's another housing crisis the community defines. It's not the same housing crisis," Dr. Shelagh McCartney told CBC Toronto.

McCartney, a professor at Ryerson's School of Urban and Regional Planning, made the discovery during a recent study on the crisis.

She's now leading a team from the school's Together Design Lab to develop a housing strategy that she hopes will make a difference.

To do that, Ryerson is collaborating with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 Indigenous communities across Ontario.

"Housing is in a desperate situation for many in our community and we need to identify some urgent steps, but at the same time work towards a longer comprehensive plan as well, " Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said.

Fiddler, joined McCartney in Toronto for the launch of the project, which will involve gathering extensive input from members of the Indigenous communities he oversees.

"That's the key to any strategy is to get that community buy-in, to get that community support," he said.

The team hopes their final data will influence policy at the provincial and national level that will give Indigenous communities a better housing strategy that is based on their needs.

"If you are going to fix that housing crisis, you need to be looking at the way the community is actually experiencing it," McCartney said.

The team says it will also be meeting with the federal Minister of Indigenous Services, Jane Philpott, in a few weeks to further discuss the project.