Across Canada, Indigenous communities were instructed to “stay home” in housing conditions known to be actively hazardous to Indigenous families' health. Two pandemic years and a national tragedy or two later, the federal Liberal government has unveiled its $4.3-billion plan to address the long-known disaster that is Indigenous Community Housing.

For Indigenous families, staying home during COVID-19 further strained the existing housing infrastructure by mandating overcrowding, which in turn exacerbated mould growth and general building envelope fatigue. Each successive Canadian government’s attempt at correcting this historical injustice has fallen short of their intended goals.

Persisting even under meaningful shifts in policy and funding, Indigenous Community Housing remains a blight on the Canadian cultural landscape. Designing a meaningful solution to address the historical persistence of Indigenous housing poverty requires more than throwing billions of dollars at the problem.

An investment of this size has the potential to function as stimulus to Indigenous communities, nurture capacity building and create generative and sustainable approaches to housing security.

By day, I work in a Wsanec community on Vancouver Island and am inundated with calls from the community for housing that is safe, healthy and meets their cultural needs. Though each community grapples with other systemic issues — such as intergenerational poverty — housing insecurity is transnationally ubiquitous.

Non-Indigenous Canadians ought to ask themselves, as they too face an unprecedented housing crisis, what does a housing-secure Canada look like? Does a housing-secure Canada include Indigenous communities? What historical injustices in Canada are worth rectification? If not Indigenous housing, what then is worthy of summoning the collective will to rectify?

The governmental mechanism that administers Indigenous housing in Canada is known as the Section 95 — On-Reserve Non-Profit Housing Program. Delivered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, this program has historically been the primary mechanism that finances the construction of housing on every reserve in Canada.

Traditionally, housing development practices consisted of unilateral implementation without meaningful consultation or understanding of intergenerational community development. The systemic myopia of on-reserve housing has fostered an intergenerational crisis of housing poverty.

We know from long experience that the established order of housing financing and governance is actively harming Indigenous families. What then is the plan for the coming $4.3-billion investment?

Managed responsibly, $4.3 billion has the potential to build meaningful housing. But great housing does not come from good intentions alone. Community-appropriate housing comes from competent design, skilled labour and inclusive collaboration.

With labour shortages in nearly every sector, the federal government must provide clarity on who will bid on these development contracts. Where are the architects and contractors who can design and build the housing that communities need and do this efficiently, cost-effectively, at scale and in a timely way that responds to the urgent need?

Well, the answer is simple; the communities themselves must take control of the funding. This $4.3 billion has the potential to be both an economic stimulus for Indigenous communities and a practical act of reconciliation.

What is needed is meaningful investment in the training component of development, empowering communities to become their own developers. To rise to this challenge, a broad and unified Indigenous response is required, where standardization and replication become key to driving costs down.

We need a coalition of Indigenous-led designers and builders to establish a range of culturally and geographically appropriate dwellings that can be constructed at scale through novel and sustainable building practices. This $4.3 billion of funding must flow through all channels of Indigenous communities and maximize every dollar’s impact on the health, safety and welfare of Indigenous families.

Opinion: Though each #IndigenousCommunity grapples with other systemic issues — such as intergenerational poverty — housing insecurity is transnationally ubiquitous, writes Jordan Koe. #IndigenousRights #AffordableHousing #cdnpoli

One thing is certain, the days of top-down exploitative development contracts must end. What is needed is investment in Indigenous communities to become both a design team and labour force for their own projects. And with their communities fully immersed in the design and development process, these projects will surely be more successful, last longer and become the pride of their communities.

Upon the next call to “stay at home,” Indigenous families deserve to shelter in healthy homes, not simply to keep them safe from COVID, but to enjoy those conditions for general well-being that is foundational to all the peoples of Canada.

Jordan Koe is a board member for Iron + Earth and housing manager for Tsawout First Nation on Vancouver Island. A member of the Tetlit Gwich'in First Nation, he earned his master’s of sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan.

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"requires more than throwing billions of dollars at the problem."
--Mind you, it doesn't require LESS than throwing billions of dollars at the problem. As with housing more generally, billions of dollars (in the broader context, many billions) is not a sufficient condition for solving the problem, but it is a necessary one.