The reality? Indigenous People can apply for social housing programs offered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (“CMHC”). CMHC offers many programs to assist Indigenous and non-Indigenous People to meet their housing needs. For Indigenous People, the assistance programs are only applicable to dwellings on reserve lands.
The housing programs for indigenous People are mainly designed to give low-income families access to rental housing. Bands and First Nations that meet CMHC lending criteria apply to a bank for conventional mortgage funds to finance the social housing construction, usually with CMHC providing loan insurance. The band rents the housing units to its members and maintains the mortgage.
On many reserves, except some that have developed self-government agreements, the house is owned but the land is not – therefore it cannot be sold - which makes it impossible to build up equity in your home, as is possible for non-Indigenous people.
Reserves are finite in size, and on some urban reserves, there is no room for expansion - when the space available for housing reaches its maximum capacity, that’s it, which makes accommodating population growth a challenge. As Indigenous people are the fastest-growing segment of Canada's population, with more than half the population under the age of 25, this means the additional challenge of available building space will become an issue for some reserves.
The housing shortage on-reserve is in the range of 20,000 - 35,000, according to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, with the shortfall growing by an estimated 2,200 units every year. The population growth rate coupled with the shortage of adequate housing results in people living in unhealthy and overcrowded conditions.
The struggles of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario that hit the media in late December 2011 are a clear example of some of the unhealthy and overcrowded living conditions that exist on reserves in Canada today.