By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Earlier this month, the Government of BC announced that the construction of affordable rental housing units for on-reserve First Nations within the province has begun.
These announcements are historic for all of Canada and perhaps precedent-setting as BC is the first province in all of Canada to invest provincial housing funds into on-reserve housing — which is a Federal responsibility. In addition, the Government of BC has opened all its provincial housing programs to First Nations.
The housing projects are supported and funded by the BC Government through the Building BC Indigenous Housing Fund grant, which is an investment fund of $1.9 billion to build more than 14,000 affordable rental homes throughout the province over the next 10 years.
The two First Nations receiving funding for the construction projects are the Tsawout First Nation and the Okanagan Indian Band.
The Tswaout First Nation
The Tswaout are utilizing the project in order to provide housing for Indigenous peoples in the workforce on the Tsawout First Nation in Central Saanich.
The province is providing a grant of $5.6 million for the project through the Building BC: Indigenous Housing Fund, interim construction financing and annual operating subsidies of $425,894 for the next 25 years.
Tswaout Chief Harvey Underwood said, “The Tsawout First Nation is thrilled to work with BC Housing to have affordable housing for working families built on our traditional territories.”
“There are many jobs opening up right now, but without an affordable place to live, it is harder for people to access these jobs. We are pleased that these 28 units will be built to a high environmental energy standard, which fits with the values of our First Nation.”
Tsawout Councillor Mavis Underwood said “We have a large demographic of young adults starting out with families. We have two-thirds of our population (who) are young adults with children who need housing.”
“It keeps them in the shelter of their community,” said Councillor Underwood. “Having a place to call your own and to have pride in is empowering and I see this as a very empowering thing that you can be in the heart of your community with your family around you.”
The housing development is expected to be completed in spring 2023.
The Okanagan Indian Band
The Okanagan Indian Band on the other hand, is developing the new units to encourage their members to stay or return to the band.
Okanagan Chief Byron Louis said of the development, “Housing is always in short supply on reserve so the additional fourplex units will certainly help ease the housing situation.”
“The additional housing will help meet immediate needs while providing longer-term options for people who live on reserve, and also for people who want to move back to the reserve. Housing helps bring the community closer together, which helps to preserve our culture and our unity. This housing will help on many fronts.”
The building’s initial construction expenses are going to be paid for by the province and the operation and ownership of the building will fall to the Okanagan Indian Band.
The new homes are expected to open in spring 2022.