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Myth #3: Do First Nations Get Free Housing on Reserves?

Myth #3: Do First Nations Get Free Housing on Reserves?
Little Grand Rapids, First Nation reserve in Manitoba, Canada
Little Grand Rapids, First Nation reserve in Manitoba, Canada. Photo: Shutterstock

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 in meeting their housing needs. For Indigenous People, the assistance programs only apply to reserve land dwellings.

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, so 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 Assembly of First Nations and the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy released a joint study in 2021 that identified the need for housing in First Nation communities at about 55,000 new units and 81,000 renovations on reserve. The population growth rate and the need for more adequate housing results in people living in unhealthy and overcrowded conditions. Safe, affordable and adequate housing is recognized as a social determinant of health and a condition for community and economic development.

This post was updated in January 2023.

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