Habitat for Humanity Yukon has gained national recognition for its Ku Katthe A’q or “First House” project in the Takhini River subdivision.
This triplex unit, constructed as a result of a partnership between Habitat for Humanity Yukon and the Champagne-Aishihik First Nations, is the first Habitat for Humanity built on settlement land in Canada.
And it has earned Habitat for Humanity Yukon the CMHC Award for Outstanding Contribution to Habitat for Humanity Aboriginal Housing. The award, sponsored by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, recognizes innovation in advancing Habitat for Humanity’s aboriginal housing program. Habitat for Humanity Canada and the Assembly of First Nations signed a memorandum of agreement in December 2011 to increase home-ownership opportunities on settlement lands, non-settlement lands and reservations. Habitat for Humanity Yukon and Champagne-Aishihik First Nations signed a similar agreement in April 2012.
The build comes at a crucial time for the First Nation. Twenty-five homes are needed across its four communities, said Chief James Allen.
“We have a huge housing need, just like any First Nations across Canada,” he said. There’s not enough money to build homes to keep pace with the growing population, he said. And housing needs are diverse.
This includes homes appropriate for seniors. The triplex includes this. The two end units are single-storeys with three bedrooms. The middle unit has two storeys and four bedrooms. Hallways and doorways will be wider than normal; bedroom and kitchens will have areas where wheelchairs can turn. It also exceeds Yukon Housing Corporation’s standards for energy efficiency.
Most of the construction was completed in September and the roof has recently been installed, said Terry Rufiange-Holway, director of housing for the Champagne-Aishihik First Nations. He was the one who first suggested the First Nation make an agreement with Habitat for Humanity Yukon. The units should be finished soon. All that’s left is to determine what families will call the units home.
Not everyone is eligible for a Habitat home.
“There’s a mistaken idea that we give people their houses,” said Arthur Miller, president of Habitat for Humanity Yukon. “We don’t.”
Families who move into Habitat homes are “perpetual renters,” he said. To apply for a Habitat home, they have to be working and able to pay a mortgage. There’s no interest on Habitat homes, and there’s no down payment. And families need to put in 500 hours of “sweat equity,” either volunteering to build their home, or on another project.
The organization wants to build another 20 units in Yukon by 2017, said Mitchell.
It won’t solve Yukon’s housing crisis, which Mitchell calls a continuum. But it’s a start. “It’s a niche,” he said.
The First Nation is also working on different ways to provide housing. It recently formed a community corporation. Citizens will rent out units, and the money will come back to the corporation. The goal is to bring citizens back to settlement lands, and increase independence, said Allen.
Years of relying on government programs have left some citizens with a mindset of dependence, he said.
“We’re trying to change that around slowly, and one of the areas that we’re using is home ownership, where a person now owns a home, and they’re going to have to start changing their own doorknobs, change their own stovepipes,” he said.
“I think if we can get people back to being independent, you have a very strong First Nation,” said Allen.
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