First Nation housing managers hope to improve housing situation with help from new CMHC program

A group of housing managers from 14 different First Nations were recognized in Edmonton on Friday for completing training that they hope will help them improve the housing situation in their home communities.

Group of 14 from Alberta, Sask. and Yukon 1st to graduate from Housing Manager Certification Program

Clarence Stonechild, Okanese First Nation, is one of 14 graduates of the first ever CMHC Housing Manager Certification Program. The program was designed to provide First Nation housing managers with the knowledge and skills to handle a broad range of housing issues on-reserve. (submitted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

A group of housing managers from 14 different First Nations were recognized in Edmonton on Friday for completing training that they hope equips them with the skills to improve the housing situation in their home communities. 

The first Housing Manager Certification Program designed for First Nations by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) held its graduation ceremony this week.

First Nation housing managers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon spent the last 18 months working toward their certification from CMHC.

"I feel like I've done something wonderful, I've accomplished something important," said Clarence Stonechild, housing manager for Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, by phone from Edmonton.

"I want our people to have a decent home, a good home to live in."

Although the federal government allocated $1.1 billion in its 2017 budget for "improving Indigenous communities," First Nations communities across Canada are still facing housing crises, part of an overall First Nations infrastructure deficit estimated as high as $30 billion

The 18-month Housing Manager Certification Program covered everything from budgets and finding financial resources to managing construction projects and tenant relations.

Stonechild said learning how to properly do the paperwork that is needed for acquiring new homes and funding for renovations was his motivation for enrolling in the program.

"The information is so important. It applies to everyday issues in the job," said Stonechild.

Constance (Connie) Kaysaywaysemat, member of Kahkewistahaw First Nation and housing manager for Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation was also a graduate of the CMHC Housing Manager Certification Program in Edmonton. Here she is pictured with her family. (submitted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

'We need more houses'

Kahkewistahaw First Nation, also in Saskatchewan, has a band membership of approximately 1,950 with about 750 of them living on-reserve.

"We have a lot of band members in urban centres that want to move home but we can't facilitate that right now," said Chief Evan Taypotat.

"We need more houses for members."

Taypotat said as it stands today they are building five new units and renovating a few other units as well.

​Kahkewistahaw First Nation band member Constance Kaysaywaysemat was among this week's graduates. She is the housing manager for Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation. 

"Housing is my passion and I've actively been involved in housing for about 27 years now," she said. 

"When I first found out about the program being offered, I got a hold of [CMHC] to find out if they were going to offer it here in Saskatchewan."

This is the first group of graduates from the CMHC First Nations Housing Manager Certification Program. Fourteen participants from three provinces celebrated their success in a graduation ceremony that took place in Edmonton on Friday. The group will now go back to their First Nations and put what they learned about housing management to work for the community. (Submitted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

Kaysaywaysemat said the in-class program was beneficial because of the diverse group of participants.

"A lot of First Nations housing departments always run a deficit ... because we never get enough funding," she said. 

"So that was one of the areas that I really wanted to help manage for my community and for Carry the Kettle."

She said that, prior to 2017, Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation hadn't acquired new housing for eight years. This past year, she said, the reserve was able to acquire eight new homes. 

Kaysaywaysemat added the course content about dealing with contractors for housing labour was also a key area of interest for her.

Program expected to expand

The 18-month program consisted of 12 modules of learning and participants travelled to Edmonton once a month for three days of in-class training.

The CMHC ran a pilot program with a smaller group in 2014. After receiving feedback from those participants, CMHC partnered with the First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to develop this certification program.

"This program was really designed to give folks broad understanding of all of the major pieces of housing," said Nicole Church, First Nation senior consultant with CMHC.

Church said that although the program is currently only offered in Alberta, CMHC is working on expanding it.

CMHC said there is already a second group of 25 participants set to graduate in September and Kahkewistahaw First Nation's housing manager is one of them.


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC