Indigenous organizations push to alleviate housing crisis, as full-time workers use homeless shelter

Indigenous organizations push to alleviate housing crisis, as full-time workers use homeless shelter

As the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) calls for federal support for initiatives in British Columbia, the Victoria Native Friendship Center (VNFC) works to provide a full spectrum of services, including support for full-time workers and students amid the housing crisis.

“The number one challenge is affordability,” said Ron Rice, executive director of VNFC. “It’s a crisis nationwide, it’s not exclusive to here, but it is probably one of the most extreme versions of the challenge across the country.”

“I think Victoria, Vancouver, and Toronto, are all sort of leading the way when it comes to the high cost of housing, and what percentage of incomes people are utilizing to even just maintain housing that they have,” he added.

Over the last 15 years the VNFC has become an active housing provider for individuals and families that “don’t fit squarely into other social housing models,” explained Rice.

The household dynamics they’ve worked to support are “grandparents raising their grandchildren, youth attending post-secondary, and youth transitioning out of care” among others, he shared.

“Last winter, I think nine of the people who stayed in our shelter had at least one full-time job,” said Rice.

In 2022 Victoria saw the living wage increase by 18.7 per cent from the previous year due to increased rental and food costs, reaching $24.29, higher than metro Vancouver. Whereas the minimum wage in British Columbia sits at 16.75 per hour.

According to Zumper the average cost for a one-bedroom rental in Victoria is $2,000 per month. While Canada’s 2023 Food Price Report reads that in 2022 the province saw a 9.2 per cent increase in cost of food and projected that costs would further increase throughout 2023.

READ ALSO: Canada’s average annual rent inflation rate reaches nine-month high: study

“The full spectrum of housing needs in the community is shifting in the wrong direction,” said Rice. “It’s not enough to have a full-time job or more than one job.”

“You sort of have to win the lottery when it comes to finding the right situation,” he said.

“One of the challenges that we face as Indigenous communities is that housing is sort of the first ripple in other challenges in parts of your life,” continued Rice. “Housing becomes connected to your academic success, it becomes connected to your ability to keep your family unified, it becomes connected to your physical health and your emotional health and housing becomes… the pebble in the pond, where if you have it, the rest of your life can become successful but the moment it becomes precarious or unreliable, it starts to have major impacts.”

In mid-October, the Aboriginal Housing Management Association published a formal call to action for the federal government, highlighting the need to support housing organizations that help Indigenous populations.

“The Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous population (URN) faces unique challenges accessing safe, affordable, culturally supportive housing, and does not qualify for the support that is provided to Indigenous people living on reserve, which is why expert organizations like the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) exist,” reads the press release.

For nearly 30 years, the AHMA has been overseeing URN Indigenous housing programs including shelters, transition housing, first, second, and third-stage housing, as well as supports in home ownership, explained Margaret Pfoh, CEO of AHMA.

“We could barely afford the rent pre-Covid, pre-financialization, pre-supply chain issues that we’re seeing, and so now, three to five years after Covid, and fires and floods, we see our real estate market have this massive increase – both for acquisition of houses, so buying into the real estate – but also in the rental market,” said Pfoh.

URN Indigenous people face racism when finding homes and places to belong, she added.

“People just don’t want Indigenous people living in their homes, or implicit biases because they believe the stereotypes that have been told generation over generation,” said Pfoh.

In the 2023 budget, the federal government promised $4 billion, over seven years beginning in 2024-25, to implement an Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.

Among AHMA’s calls to action was for the federal government to make a commitment to support National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Incorporated (NICHI), created in 2022 to support the organization’s goals to `advance housing for URN Indigenous population’.

Additionally, AHMA wrote that while the 2023 budget focused on the improvement of conditions for middle-income earners, they would like to see initiatives and wraparound support for low-income and vulnerable URN Indigenous populations.

“Low-income earners and vulnerable groups must be prioritized in the budget, especially in an environment where inflation is soaring, interest rates are high, the cost of living is growing, and housing is unaffordable even for those with higher means,” reads the press release.

Other calls to action outline the need for the federal government to designate resources for AHMA’s URN Housing strategy, the creation of a federal acquisition fund for the community housing sector to acquire rental housing properties, and the adjustment of the budget to accommodate lost capacity due to interest and construction rates for Co-operative Housing Development program.

“We are one less barrier for Indigenous peoples when they’re seeking a place to belong and a place to rest because we’re Indigenous organizations, we’re led by Indigenous practices and awareness,” said Pfoh.

“It’s only going to take us another generation or two to work this out,” said Rice. “But I swear to God, when we get there, it’s going to be beautiful.”

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