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Indigenous Affairs
BC Politics

BC to Fund On-Reserve Housing in Groundbreaking Plan

Important to help people live in home communities, says minister.

By Andrew MacLeod 19 Jun 2018 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia government says its commitment to make funding available for on-reserve housing is a first for a Canadian province and a bold positive step.

“It’s about enough already,” Housing Minister Selina Robinson said in an interview. “We have to take a step here and really focus on housing for people, for Indigenous people, in the communities where they live, make their homes, where they’re born, where they’re connected, where their families are.”

The province is providing $550 million over 10 years through a new Indigenous Housing Fund to create and operate 1,750 units of housing. It has put out a request for proposals and hopes to have 1,000 of the units approved within a year, Robinson said. The funding will be available for projects both off- and on-reserve.

While the province has supported off-reserve housing for Indigenous people, on-reserve housing has been a federal responsibility since 1867 and has been chronically underfunded.

The government’s announcement quoted Premier John Horgan, saying, “Everyone in British Columbia deserves a good home, including people who live on-reserve... That’s why we’re opening the door to all Indigenous communities to join us as we make housing better and more affordable for people in every part of the province.”

Robinson said it’s the right thing to do. “We believe, and our government believes, people don’t exist in vacuums, they exist in communities,” she said. “They have supports, they have family, they have friends, they have community, they have history.”

It’s not good for anyone if people need to leave their communities because there isn’t enough housing, Robinson said. “It’s not good for the individual, it’s not good for the community, and it’s not good for us as a society.”

She noted that 35 per cent of the people who are homeless in Metro Vancouver are Indigenous. “That’s complete overrepresentation.” Lack of housing can be connected to worse health, poor mental health, addictions issues and involvement in the criminal justice system, she said.

“It’s really hard to get a grip on your life, or plan a life, if you don’t have a safe, secure place to settle. We know that’s been a significant challenge for First Nations here in British Columbia. Whether they are on or off reserve it’s a very, very difficult issue.”

People end up disconnected from their communities and dependent on the province for help, she said.

“We wind up dealing with it and having to respond to it. I’d rather prevent it. And I want to invite the federal government to work with us, and I’m hopeful that they will, and join us in addressing this.”

The housing funding is part of the provincial government’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people, Robinson said.

The government’s announcement quoted Adam Olsen, the Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, saying, “This is an important investment that will increase the quality of life for Indigenous peoples in B.C. Levels of Indigenous homelessness are unacceptable, and there is a direct link to a lack of housing on reserves.”

And Terry Teegee, the regional chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations said, “We have never seen such a commitment from a provincial government for on-reserve housing investments. I applaud the leadership of Premier Horgan and his ministers... This is an important step for building stronger First Nations’ communities.”  [Tyee]

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