In what is a first for the territory, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations signed a deal with Habitat for Humanity Yukon to work together to build housing for low-income citizens.
“We’re using a number of initiatives to make our people more self-reliant and independent and this is one of the vehicles that we’re using to help them do that,” said Chief James Allen at the signing in Whitehorse on Thursday.
The first building will be a triplex at the First Nations’ Takhini River subdivision, west of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway.
But the hope is to build more homes as the First Nations free up more settlement land and the organization gets more resources to keep building, said Arthur Mitchell, president of Habitat for Humanity Yukon.
This national Habitat organization signed an agreement with the national Assembly of First Nations in December 2011 to help bring affordable home ownership and adequate housing to aboriginal communities across Canada.
Unlike many other First Nations across Canada, however, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations are self-governing. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to establish a program that helps build homes and finance mortgages for low-income people, said Allen.
“The demand for housing by people who do not make a lot of money in our communities is great,” he said. “Our unemployment rate is very high and there are not a lot of job opportunities in the communities. It would take a lot of effort, a lot of capacity for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to develop a program like this and to fund it. So we’re glad to have a partner that’s established … and use the capacity that they have, the funding and the experience that they have to help our people own their own homes.
“Hopefully this will create a market for home ownership on our settlement lands.
“Home ownership is a big part of self-reliance and people want to own their homes. They want to call something theirs. This will build pride in the community for the families that own these, but it will also build a support system: the community feeling of people working together again.”
It will take volunteers from the whole community to build these homes, said Allen.
In return, citizens of the Haines Junction-based First Nations will have the chance to start developing skills like carpentry and other trades.
“It’s certainly a first step,” Mitchell said, noting that accredited journeymen and supervisors will be on the construction site. “When the volunteers become engaged then they may decide to pursue that path but obviously there’s training opportunities and it’s just a win-win.”
Habitat for Humanity is expanding its work in the territory in addition to this Champagne and Aishihik project.
The Yukon government announced on Wednesday that for each of the five phases of Whistle Bend, land will be reserved for the non-profit.
And while ambitious, Habitat for Humanity is confident it will be able to keep up with its schedule thanks to a 2009 agreement with the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Essentially, the corporation can finance mortgages for eligible, low-income clients, while paying the entire mortgage to Habitat for Humanity up front so that it has the money to keep building.
A similar scheme, called the First Nations Housing Initiative, is another “vehicle” Allen’s citizens are accessing to help develop more home ownership on their lands.
The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will be using Habitat for Humanity’s criteria for selecting the families moving into the triplex once it is built.
Since 2005, Habitat for Humanity has helped nine Yukon families become homeowners.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at