Liberals promise $638M for urban Indigenous housing

A federal plan to spend $638 million on housing for Indigenous people living in cities and urban areas won't provide enough money or address the basic causes of Indigenous homelessness, say people who work on programs in the field.

Two-thirds of money to address Indigenous homelessness, one-third for improving existing social housing

Seamus O'Regan Minister of Indigenous Services (left), looks on as Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, (right) takes part in a news conference announcing investments to address Indigenous homelessness and housing, in Gatineau, Que., Wednesday. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

A federal plan to spend $638 million on housing for Indigenous people living in cities and urban areas won't provide enough money or address the basic causes of Indigenous homelessness, say people who work on programs in the field.

"It's not enough," said Marc Maracle, the executive director of the Gignul Non Profit Housing Corporation, an Indigenous housing co-operative in Ottawa.

About two-thirds of the money is meant for programs that serve people who are currently homeless. The other third is for renovations and improvements to existing units that house Indigenous families in urban areas.

Maracle said the biggest housing challenge for Indigenous people is affordability and that the focus on homelessness in the funding ignores the real root of the problem, especially since half of the Indigenous population in Canada lives in urban centres, according to the latest census data, where housing is often expensive.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan announced the funding Wednesday at the Canadian Museum of History's great hall, lined with totem poles on one side and vast windows with a view of Parliament Hill on the other.

Funding part of housing strategy

The funding is a part of the Liberals' decade-long $40-billion housing strategy that aims to reduce homelessness in Canada by 50 per cent.

The dollar amount received criticism from Jeff Morrison, the executive director at the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

"When you consider the announcement today of $638 million, it's really just a small fraction of a $40-billion announcement," said Morrison. "I think it's safe to say it's insufficient."

Both Maracle and Morrison said they hope Wednesday's announcement is just a beginning and that more money will be funnelled toward Indigenous housing.

No word on where money will go

Duclos said close collaboration with Indigenous communities across the country will be a big driver in where and how the money is spent. As a result, the government isn't yet certain exactly where the money will go or how quickly it will be spent.

"I know nothing is more critical than investing in stable and secure housing," said O'Regan.

Not having homes can make it difficult for Indigenous people living in urban areas to "reach their full potential," he said.