Rule change nixes First Nation housing

A housing pilot project in Dawson that was called a model for the North last week is actually no longer possible to replicate, according to the Tr'ondek Hwech'in.

A housing pilot project in Dawson that was called a model for the North last week is actually no longer possible to replicate, according to the Tr’ondek Hwech’in.

A Conference Board of Canada report highlighted a housing project from 2006 that was part of a partnership between the First Nation, Han Construction, Yukon Housing and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. But because of federal changes to the loan system for First Nation communities, similar projects aren’t possible in Dawson anymore.

The project built a demonstration house with local materials and expertise that used 50 per cent less energy than homes built under the current building codes. It was so successful that the partners built a second one.

“It was essentially to be as close to zero energy use as they could reasonably get a dwelling in Dawson. It was a duplex that had some solar collectors involved in it. It was about 50 per cent better than the first house,” said Al Lyon, Yukon Housing’s director of community and industry partnering.

The project also served as a model for Han Construction, which is owned by the First Nation. The company was able to prove they could train local workers and build incredibly efficient houses with relatively simple technology.

But the biggest problem with housing in the North isn’t building the homes, Lyon said. It’s paying for them.

“Having the money to build more and more houses – that is the biggest problem in First Nations communities. It’s about $200 a square foot,” Lyon said.

That means upwards of $200,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house.

“That’s not a very big house. If you want to build 10 houses in a community, you’re looking at $2 million,” Lyon said.

In order to make further projects feasible, the First Nation needs funding from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. In order to qualify for the funding, it needs a ministerial loan guarantee from Aboriginal Affairs.

But the government changed the rules governing loan guarantees, restricting them only to housing projects on First Nation

reserves or lands “set aside” for First Nations. The subdivisions in Dawson don’t qualify, said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor.

“Our solid and well-managed program is the envy of the North, but our waiting list (for housing) continues to grow,” Taylor said in a release.

Neither Aboriginal Affairs nor the CMHC responded to numerous calls before press time.

Taylor said the change came in 2010, and now means the Tr’ondek Hwech’in can’t access CMHC funding.

“It is unfortunate that groundbreaking programs like those described in the Conference Board of Canada report are no longer possible, but we hope the positive attention will lead to an overturn of the rules that undermine our ability to provide housing to our people,” Taylor said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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