In 1963, the federal government commissioned what would be known as the Hawthorn report, a study entitled “A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies.” This was an investigation into the social conditions of ‘Aboriginal’ peoples across Canada, where Hawthorn concluded that ‘Aboriginal’ peoples were Canada’s most disadvantaged and marginalized population. While the report dealt with the basic theme of economic development for on-reserve Indigenous peoples, it had unintended consequences that had a profound effect on urban Indigenous housing.

In 1972, the federal government made a commitment to build 50,000 housing units for Aboriginal people residing off reserve. This led to the development of the Rural and Remote Housing Program, which was established in 1973 and administered by CMHC. The objective of this program was to provide low-interest mortgage loans and grants to non-profit rental housing groups. The Urban Native Housing Program was introduced in 1978 as part of CMHC’s Non-Profit Housing program, and featured subsidies for Indigenous people who could not afford market rents. In the early 1980s the program increased the subsidy portion because many of the tenants could not afford the rent provisions that were established in the earlier program.

With the expiration of Operating Agreements under the Urban Native Housing Program expected by 2040, the CHRA Indigenous Caucus began to discuss new ways to properly fund urban, rural, and northern Indigenous housing across Canada. These discussions were accelerated in the lead up to the 2017 National Housing Strategy. Although the 10-year, $40 billion National Housing Strategy and its subsequent policy announcements included 3 distinctions-based housing strategies for First Nations, Inuit and Métis, there was no distinct strategy for urban, rural, and Northern Indigenous peoples.

In reaction to this lack of an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy, the CHRA Indigenous Caucus began consultations among its membership on the framework for such a strategy. The result was the a “For Indigenous, By Indigenous” strategy that provides a framework for an eventual urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy.  This “FIBI” framework has subsequently been shared with government officials, stakeholders, and Indigenous groups.

Why Do We Need a Distinct Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy?

According to the 2016 Census, 773,000 Indigenous households live in Canada, with approximately 80% of those households living in urban and rural areas. CMHC estimated in 2016, 18.3% of Indigenous households were in core housing need in urban, rural, and northern areas. This was much higher than non-Indigenous households, at 11.6%. This figure also varies greatly across provinces. It also widely varies from community to community, with up to 44% being reported in northern communities.

A disproportionate number of Indigenous people are also homeless. Counts in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary ranged from 10% to 38%. In areas like Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina and Whitehorse, the proportion rises to over 70%.

This is a watershed moment, a once in a generation opportunity for an affordable housing strategy for the 87% of Indigenous households living in urban, rural and northern settings. The FIBI strategy is an important step in urban, rural, and northern Indigenous Peoples’ recognition, self-determination, and progress along the path to reconciliation.

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