Capacity building key to aboriginal home ownership, REALTORS(R) say



    VICTORIA, B.C., Oct. 11 /CNW Telbec/ - The federal government's proposed
First Nations Market Housing Fund will only be effective if it strengthens the
capacity of bands and their members to expand home ownership, according to
Lorne Weiss, Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) Director and Chair of its
Federal Affairs Committee.
    Mr. Weiss outlined CREA's position in consultations with the Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) on the proposed fund at a press
conference held in conjunction with the CMHC Aboriginal Housing Symposium. The
fund stems from the Harper government's promise in its 2007 budget to dedicate
$300 million to develop housing markets in First Nations communities.
    Expanding aboriginal home ownership will take support for capacity
building among First Nations that currently lack the tools and expertise, said
Mr. Weiss. "Without it, the First Nations Market Housing Fund will risk
putting the cart before the horse."
    Mr. Weiss pointed out that most First Nations with the capacity to use a
revolving loan fund or mortgage insurance are already working with the banks
to support a form of ownership. Accompanying Mr. Weiss at the press conference
was Ron Jamieson, who as Senior Vice President at BMO Financial Group
developed a model for mortgage lending on reserves that is growing rapidly -
without government funding.
    While CMHC has raised the question of capacity development, no
information has been provided on whether any part of the $300 million would be
allocated for that purpose. As outlined in consultation documents, the money
would serve as a mortgage insurance fund of last resort to encourage more
on-reserve lending.
    Mr. Weiss cautioned Ottawa against adopting a national "one-size fits
all" approach to the proposed fund. "Our research for World Urban Forum III
last year showed that broad generalizations of policy, imposed by Ottawa, led
to some of the housing problems that plague aboriginal communities today." The
key to aboriginal housing success, he said, is full community involvement in
the planning and development of housing.
    CREA welcomes the government's initiative to encourage aboriginal
homeownership, Mr. Weiss said. "We believe this is the first time federal
policy has promoted the benefits of home ownership for aboriginals." However,
he urged the government to consider how the $300 million can best be used to
build on solid foundations already laid down by First Nations people working
with lenders.
    CREA raised a number of other questions in consultations that also need
addressing:

    
    - Who benefits from the fund?

      The Market Housing Fund is to be used only as a last resort - following
      default by both an individual and the band. As the $300 million fund
      collects interest, where will that interest go and for what purpose? It
      should have to be reinvested in aboriginal housing.

    - How will the fund be administered?

      There is a requirement to assess and qualify bands to be eligible for
      the fund. At present, the banks do their own qualifying and assessments
      of risk. Who is going to perform this new administrative function and
      how onerous will it be?

    - Who will guarantee security of land tenure?

      Security of tenure is fundamental to home ownership. The consultation
      paper suggests the bands will be left to deliver this guarantee. How
      does the government plan to assess the stability of band councils with
      respect to providing land tenure? Women living on reserves have no
      property rights. The government has initiated consultations aimed at
      resolving this longstanding injustice, but until this fundamental issue
      is settled, there can be no security of tenure for half the targeted
      population.
    

    Mr. Weiss, who is also a director of the Manitoba Real Estate Association
(MREA), said MREA is developing a program to provide assisted home ownership
to aboriginal people living off-reserve in urban Manitoba. The Manitoba
government has committed $250,000 to support a pilot project that MREA expects
to launch in 2008. This program has potential applications in urban areas
anywhere in Canada.
    The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) represents the interests of
90,000 members who are active in all aspects of the real estate industry. For
most Canadians, ownership of a home is their biggest investment and the key to
financial wellbeing. CREA members advise and assist Canadians in buying and
selling homes.




For further information:

For further information: Bob Linney, CREA Communications Director, (613)
237-7111, rlinney@crea.ca

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