A new coalition is calling on the federal government to invest $6 billion in its upcoming budget to develop an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy.
The National Urban Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Coalition, which represents Indigenous housing providers across Canada, said there's a need to increase the housing supply by 73,000 units.
It said investments should focus on an Indigenous-led approach and support culturally relevant community resources and health services to end the cycle of housing insecurity.
"Canada has a problem and we have a solution. We now need a federal government who wants to work together in partnership on that solution," Justin Marchand, coalition board member and chief executive officer of Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, told a news conference on Tuesday.
Marchand said current government programs are not working. He said allowing communities to make their own decisions will lead to long-term success.
The federal government allocated $300 million in its 2022 budget to co-develop an Indigenous housing strategy, but the coalition said that's inadequate. It pointed to a 2022 report from the National Housing Council that called for at least $6.3 billion to be spent on Indigenous housing between 2022 and 2024.
The coalition said 80 per cent of Canada's Indigenous population lives away from Indigenous-governed territories, and many have been left out of the national housing strategy and federal housing initiatives. It said Indigenous people disproportionately live in crowded dwellings in need of major repairs and are overrepresented in homeless counts, correctional facilities and as victims of violence.
Margaret Pfoh, a coalition board member and chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, said a $6 billion investment in Indigenous housing could save $10 billion in costs for health care and other services.
"We can continue to spend more and more money on backlogged hospital emergency rooms, more money on ambulances, more money on incarceration, or we can invest in preventive measures like safe and affordable housing with the supports that people need," Marchand said.
Katlia Lafferty is a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, one of the founding members of the coalition, and co-chair of the National Indigenous Housing Network. She said some challenges in the North include a lack of shelters and transition homes for women and children fleeing violence, limited rehabilitation supports, high heating costs, and problems with existing homes like mould and poor plumbing.
"We can't just build houses anymore. We need to build homes that are built to withstand winters, we need to work on creating a path for our communities to become healthy again," she said.
Lafferty also stressed the importance of Indigenous self-determination to address the housing crisis.
"It's about time we have the opportunity to demonstrate that as a collective group of Indigenous organizations from coast to coast we can effectively manage the money that is required to do this work across the country and solve this problem once and for all."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Emily Blake, The Canadian Press