Innovative Initiatives Make Headway Against Long-standing Northern Housing Challenges

OTTAWA, Dec. 10, 2012 /CNW/ - Innovative approaches and partnerships are successfully tackling the high costs of building and maintaining housing in Canada's North, according to a Conference Board of Canada report, Framing Sustainable Options for Housing in Canada's North.

Published by the Conference Board's Centre for the North, the report identifies partnerships among private sector, public sector, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities that are both supporting and involving Northerners in the design of adequate housing.

"Mention housing in Canada's north and most Canadians think of the 2011 crisis on the Attawapiskat First Nation reserve," says Anja Jeffrey, Director, Centre for the North. "Our goal should be to broaden that perception by calling attention to successful housing options that truly meet the needs of Northerners living in a wide range of communities, both on and off reserve."

Providing adequate and affordable housing options in Canada's North is an exceptional challenge. Construction, maintenance, and utility costs are all extraordinarily high, putting good housing out of reach for many residents without significant subsidies from the public sector.

The four case studies in this report examine how some Northern communities are making significant progress in overcoming these challenges.

  • The Nunavut Housing Corporation's private sector partnership with Kott North to design 142 public housing units for 19 communities across the territory showcases how the public sector can work effectively with private developers to ensure that Northerners benefit from the most energy-efficient houses in Canada.

  • The multi-sectoral partnership between The Holmes Group, Assembly of First Nations, and the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek is piloting a sustainable on-reserve housing strategy to deliver quality sustainable housing options on reserve.

  • The efforts of the Northern Teacher Education Program in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, to build affordable, high-quality, non-profit student housing emphasizes the direct correlation between the availability of quality Northern housing and positive educational outcomes.

  • The collaboration between Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Yukon Housing Corporation, Han Construction Limited, and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation illustrates the effectiveness and impact of meaningful community engagement.

A significant portion of the existing Northern housing stock was designed by outsiders based on the decades-old premise that "what works in the South works in the North". The North, however, requires specific housing programs and policies. While governments spend considerable amounts of money to improve affordability, they often spread what little money there is in too many ways.

While there is an obvious demand for housing as shelter in the North, there is not as strong a demand, or ability, in many regions to support a for-profit housing market. Many communities in the North are very small, with predominantly Aboriginal populations, high unemployment, and reliance on government subsidies and social programs. Where a private market is viable, such as in Fort McMurray or Whitehorse, high and rapidly rising real estate prices can seriously erode affordability. For example, over a six-year period, between 2006 and 2011, the average price of a home in Whitehorse increased 80 per cent.

The report, published by the Conference Board's Centre for the North, makes six key recommendations.

  1. Greater emphasis on leveraging multi-sectoral partnerships and expertise when designing and delivering Northern housing programs;
  2. Additional support for Northern First Nations' on-reserve housing programs;
  3. Greater emphasis on developing local capacity in support of Northern housing development;
  4. Continued emphasis on the integration of simple technology and innovation in Northern affordable housing designs and development;
  5. Increased community involvement and horizontal policy development in the Northern housing planning process; and
  6. More emphasis on developing low- and middle-income affordable housing options in the North.

The Conference Board of Canada's Centre for the North works with Aboriginal leaders, businesses, governments, communities, educational institutions, and other organizations to provide new insights into how sustainable prosperity can be achieved in the North. The Centre will help to establish and implement strategies, policies and practices to transform that vision into reality.

SOURCE: Conference Board of Canada

For further information:

Brent Dowdall, Media Relations, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext.  448

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