Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

June 17, 2011 12:13 ET

Creating Opportunities for Aboriginal Families Through Homeownership

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 17, 2011) - Lorelei was the first in her family to graduate from high school, attend university, and be fully employed as a family support worker. Despite these accomplishments, she found herself trapped in a cycle of poverty and unaffordable housing.

Lorelei grew up in Fort Rouge, Manitoba, and made her way to university with the sponsorship of her First Nation community. However, as a single young mother, she could not afford housing that was both safe enough and suitable to raise her family. To find a suitable neighbourhood that she could afford required Lorelei to move 11 times in the course of a decade, until her sister persuaded her to apply to Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg. To her surprise, her application was approved almost immediately.

Thanks to Habitat for Humanity Canada's Aboriginal Housing Program, Lorelei is now a proud homeowner who has finally found stability and security – and a community among the other Habitat families she met through the building of the homes. She can decorate her house to suit her family's needs and, more importantly, enjoy the safety and freedom of homeownership.

The Aboriginal Housing Program

Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg had worked with Aboriginal families before, but the program Lorelei applied for – the Aboriginal Housing Program – was the result of a new and unique partnership between Habitat for Humanity Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). As Canada's national housing agency, CMHC works to help Aboriginal families and communities improve their housing conditions.

Recognizing the need for sustainable housing for Aboriginal Canadian families, CMHC and Habitat for Humanity Canada formed their partnership in 2007 to launch Habitat for Humanity's pilot Aboriginal Housing Program. The goal of this program is to help Habitat for Humanity's affiliates across Canada make the Habitat homeownership model available to more Aboriginal families, both on- and off-reserve.

In 2007, CMHC assigned a senior employee to the organization to help develop the pilot, help Habitat capitalize on its successes, and ensure a transition to an ongoing, self-sustaining national program.

"Habitat for Humanity Canada had come to realize that the distinct challenges faced by Aboriginal families required special attention," says Jay Thakar, the senior CMHC secondee working with Habitat for Humanity Canada. "The organization's mission is to promote homeownership as a means of breaking the cycle of poverty, but recognized that these distinct challenges needed to be better understood before seeking to address them." Through the initiative, Habitat has been able to leverage CMHC's expertise and decades-long connection with Aboriginal communities across Canada.

Under the Aboriginal Housing Program, Habitat for Humanity affiliates across Canada work with Aboriginal organizations and families. These organizations can recommend Aboriginal families that show financial stability and potential for homeownership, but are unable to afford a down-payment – in short, families who meet Habitat for Humanity's normal selection criteria. Families that are approved can purchase homes without a down-payment, and are offered a long-term mortgage that is interest-free.

But these families are not merely applicants. "Partnering is the operative word," says Thakar. "The goal is for these families to become homeowners, and they demonstrate their commitment by providing 500 hours of 'sweat equity' – that is, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity affiliates." Partners such as Lorelei participated in the building of Habitat homes in Winnipeg, which she found to be an opportunity to meet other Habitat partner families. The investment pays forward financially as well, as all mortgage payments are reinvested in building more Habitat homes.

Recognizing excellence

To mark the upcoming end of the pilot period and the beginning of a sustainable ongoing national Habitat for Humanity Canada Program, CMHC created an annual Award for Outstanding Contribution to Habitat for Humanity Aboriginal Housing. The award recognizes a Canadian affiliate that has demonstrated excellence in Aboriginal housing. CMHC presented the first of these awards to Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg on May 20, 2011 at Habitat for Humanity's Annual General Meeting awards gala in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg built 15 of the 22 homes completed through the Aboriginal Housing Program to date. A key factor in the success in Winnipeg was the development of formal agreements between Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg and the Ojibway First Nation and the Manitoba Métis Housing Corporation, which allowed for easier identification of qualifying families, and provided grounds for the First Nations to approach the provincial government for further funding.

Part of a larger picture

"This has proven an excellent way for Habitat for Humanity to reach out to Canadian Aboriginal communities, where housing remains a considerable challenge," says Stewart Hardacre, President and Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity Canada. "For the future, we envision completing a further 15 to 20 homes annually under the Program." Meanwhile, this seed of housing development has attracted private donations, with many donors directing their funds to Aboriginal housing. It's also fostering innovative ways to create more housing with the funds available.

CMHC continues to invest in opportunities to improve housing for Aboriginal Canadians, working with more than 400 First Nations communities across Canada to provide knowledge, skills, training and resources that will help First Nations address their housing needs and to acquire more skills and knowledge to design, build, inspect and manage housing on-reserve.

Contact Information

  • Charles Sauriol
    Media Relations- CMHC