Evidence of meeting #30 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cmhc.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Sharon Matthews  Vice-President, Assisted Housing Sector, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Christine Cram  Acting Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Socio-Economic Policy and Regional Operations, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Gina Wilson  Assistant Deputy Minister, Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Barry Devolin

Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone to meeting number 30 of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

We've had a slight change in our agenda today. We are going to be hearing from two panels--the first is before us now--dealing with housing issues. We have witnesses here from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, as well as the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

We will continue with panel A until 4:20, and at 4:20 we will break very briefly to bring panel B to the table. Panel B will be discussing a separate issue, the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada program and process.

We will deal with panel B until about 5:15, at which point we will go back in camera. We're going to defer our in camera discussion of the agenda until the end of our meeting today, rather than having it at the beginning, for a couple of reasons: the first is that a couple of our regular members, whom I would like to have here to participate in that conversation, are not here; second, as Monsieur Lemay pointed out, we do have a vote tonight and we are all going back to the House from here for six o'clock. If necessary, we can probably stay for 10 or 15 minutes after our normal end of the meeting at 5:30 and go to 5:40 to discuss committee business.

I would like to welcome to the committee today members from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, as well as the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, to discuss housing issues. I understand we are going to have two presentations: the first from Sharon Matthews, vice-president of the assisted housing sector, and the second by Christine Cram, acting senior assistant deputy minister of socio-economic policy and regional operations. Subsequent to that, we will proceed with our normal rounds of questioning.

Welcome, all of you, to the furthest side of Parliament Hill here in the east block.

Sharon Matthews, if you would like to begin, the floor is yours.

May 28th, 2008 / 3:40 p.m.

Sharon Matthews Vice-President, Assisted Housing Sector, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We really appreciate this opportunity to share with you CMHC's role in aboriginal housing in Canada. A little over a year ago, we provided the committee with a brief on this issue. Our intention this afternoon is to provide an update, highlighting some of the successes, and then speak a little bit about where we're headed.

As Canada's housing agency, CMHC has a mandate to improve housing conditions for all Canadians, regardless of where they live. We fulfill our mandate through the provision of mortgage loan insurance products, affordable housing programs—

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

We are going to give you five minutes extra, but shh.

3:40 p.m.

Vice-President, Assisted Housing Sector, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Vice-President, Assisted Housing Sector, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Sharon Matthews

We fulfill our mandate through the provision of mortgage loan insurance products, affordable housing programs, research, and the sharing of expertise.

As you are aware, INAC has the lead role with respect to on-reserve housing policy. The department is a key participant in the pursuit of healthy and sustainable communities and the broader economic and social development objectives. As a result, INAC is one of CMHC's key partners in delivering housing programs, our products, and the services to first nations across this country.

First nation communities themselves, however, are also critical partners for CMHC. With the assistance of our various programs, first nations decide whether or not they will participate in a specific CMHC housing program or initiative. In other words, is the initiative the appropriate tool for that specific community's needs?

The first nation largely determines the physical design of a project that will be built. They decide, once built or renovated, who from the community has access to the low-income housing. The first nation also manages the actual construction or renovation under our programs and is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the homes constructed. Even in the context of allocations, CMHC works hand in hand with first nations organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations, to determine the priorities and to ensure that the limited resources flow where they can best have an impact.

At CMHC we are also keenly aware that the need for suitable and affordable housing for first nations people is enormous. We estimate that 22% of first nations members live in inadequate housing on reserve. Another 10% face overcrowding.

It's important to understand, however, that there are success stories from which all those involved in aboriginal housing are learning. CMHC works hard to effectively manage the resources we have and to maximize the benefits on the ground while respecting the autonomy and the choices made by first nations.

CMHC's strategy in approaching the challenge of housing for first nations people can be described as a three-pronged approach: first, delivery of our assisted housing programs; second, our work in aboriginal capacity development; and third, our facilitation of market-based solutions on reserve.

With respect to assisted housing, the federal government, through CMHC, supports, as I believe you know, some 626,000 existing social housing units in Canada at a cost of over $1.7 billion annually. Within this off-reserve portfolio, an estimated $156 million is spent annually in support of projects specifically targeted to aboriginal peoples. In addition, the federal government, through CMHC, supports new affordable housing supply through a $1 billion affordable housing initiative. Another $128 million in annual federal funding is provided for CMHC's suite of renovation assistance programs. These programs, which generally apply to all Canadians, also help advance housing for aboriginal peoples.

Off reserve and in the north, much of the funding CMHC receives for housing is administered by the provinces and territories. Through CMHC, there are also a number of specialized housing programs and initiatives specifically targeted to first nations on-reserve communities. In 2007 CMHC spent approximately $134 million on these housing initiatives. The on-reserve non-profit housing program assists first nations in buying, building, renovating, and administering suitable and affordable rental housing on reserve. This has resulted in, on average, around 1,000 additional units of social housing on reserve each year.

CMHC provides a subsidy to the project to assist with its financing and ongoing operation. The accountability regime also helps to ensure that housing built under this program is well built and well maintained. Specifically, CMHC requires that the first nation confirm that all units constructed conform to a minimum standard under the National Building Code of Canada. The program funding also includes a provision for the ongoing maintenance of units as well as an allocation for a replacement reserve fund to cover the replacement costs of worn-out capital items. This helps first nations keep the homes maintained over time.

CMHC renovation programs repair existing units, convert non-residential spaces into housing, and provide home adaptation funding in support of seniors. Approximately 1,000 housing units are repaired under these programs annually.

Such programming also supports the construction and renovation of the shelter network for victims of family violence across this country.

In addition to the specific program funding that I've outlined, CMHC also plays a very significant role in supporting first nations as they build their housing capacity. This is where the future lies, as without the housing capacity, many communities don't have the skills locally to maintain what they have and, equally important, to plan for future successes.

For example, I spoke a bit earlier about the new construction program. Thanks to the training and support the CMHC can provide, it often becomes the job of trained members of the first nation community itself to inspect a project during construction and ensure it is built to code, as well as for the ongoing maintenance of the on-reserve housing. In fact, more than 90% of the inspections undertaken during the delivery of CMHC programs are undertaken by aboriginal inspectors themselves.

Through our housing quality initiative, we work with individual first nations to help them build the capacity to prevent, remediate, and manage mould and related housing air quality problems. For example, we have entered into multi-year agreements with 43 band councils under which we are working to build the skills and the knowledge of their members. We offer a series of training modules tailored for the various audiences, covering an array of topics, including air quality, building practices, and renovation techniques.

Specifically with regard to mould, during the fall of 2007 a committee consisting of CMHC, INAC, Health Canada, and the Assembly of First Nations consulted with first nations organizations involved in housing regarding a draft national strategy to address mould in housing on reserve. That committee is making progress toward the implementation of that strategy during 2008. However, I will leave it to my colleague at INAC to speak today of the details of that strategy, as INAC is the lead agency and I know we are short on time.

CMHC has also helped support and develop two critically important national aboriginal associations, the First Nations National Building Officers Association--we call it FNNBOA--and the First Nations Housing Managers' Association.

FNNBOA is leading the way for other organizations, frankly, both on and off reserve when it comes to certification programs and ensuring the professionalism and maintenance of the skills in the sector. CMHC supported the development of FNNBOA through funding to help launch and establish the organization and help them develop their websites and attend events to promote their association.

The First Nations Housing Managers' Association was created to promote and enhance the professional development of housing managers on reserve. This emerging association has for its objectives the creation of a central professional network for sharing best practices. Similar to FNNBOA, CMHC has funded the initial conceptualization and development of the core organization with the intent that it become self-sustaining over the longer term. Partners again, such as INAC and Health Canada, have also participated in support of these very important organizations.

In addition to the assistance programs and the capacity developments for support that I've already spoken of, a third area of focus for CMHC is to facilitate market-based solutions on reserve in a manner that respects the underlying communal ownership of the land. Market solutions are not for every first nation and not for every member of a given first nation. However, it is about the choice and the opportunity. We believe that the more we can do to facilitate market solutions for those who can afford them, the more first nations communities can take advantage of the economic benefits of housing that most other Canadians take for granted.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates that about 30% of first nations housing needs on reserve could actually be addressed through market-based housing.

CMHC has been very active in the search for ways to facilitate private sector lending on reserve. We've been proactive in explaining market concepts, sharing success stories, and showing how our mortgage insurance products can assist.

The most recent innovation in this regard, and the one that has the potential to most fundamentally change housing finance on reserve, is the new first nations market housing fund. Earlier this month, the start of the operations of the new $300 million fund was announced by the minister of INAC, the minister responsible for CMHC, Chief John Beaucage, the new chair of the first nations fund, along with the Assembly of First Nations.

This fund will guarantee, on behalf of a first nation, private sector loans made to their members on reserve for market-based housing. The development of this fund is extremely significant for first nations people living on reserve. It represents an innovative new tool that can give eligible first nations members the opportunity to build, buy, or renovate their own homes on reserve. It is estimated that over the next 10 years, the fund will facilitate financing for up to 25,000 homes on reserve.

Over the last year, CMHC, INAC, and the Assembly of First Nations have sought the advice and input from first nations leaders, experts, organizations, members, as well as the Canadian financial community, on the design of the fund.

While the new tool is vital to improving living conditions of first nations communities, I really want to emphasize that it is also important to understand that by no means is it a complete solution, and it will not solve all the housing challenges that first nations people face. Tools like CMHC's aboriginal programs, the assisted programs, and capacity development support remain of critical importance.

As we look to the future, CMHC remains committed to continuing to deliver our programs as efficiently and effectively as possible. In terms of aboriginal capacity development, our focus remains on supporting housing quality, including mould avoidance and remediation, supporting the understanding of market solutions, and working towards building sustainable aboriginal organizations. Finally, we want to continue to facilitate market solutions for first nations communities.

Thank you again for the opportunity to meet with you today. I look forward to any questions and clarifications I can offer this afternoon.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Barry Devolin

Thank you, Ms. Matthews.

Ms. Cram, you have the floor.

3:50 p.m.

Christine Cram Acting Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Socio-Economic Policy and Regional Operations, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Good afternoon. I would like to thank the chair and committee members for the opportunity to provide an update on housing on-reserve.

Housing is a key component of strong and healthy communities and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs works with First Nations to increase the supply of housing on-reserve.

The department acknowledges that addressing the high demand for housing in First Nations is critical. We are working hard to support better housing outcomes by improving housing support to help those in the most in need, and by encouraging First Nations to embrace housing as a lifelong asset.

On INAC's role in housing on reserve, as part of its capital program, INAC provides first nations with subsidies for the delivery of housing services. This amounts to $138 million annually to improve access to adequate housing on reserve. In addition, INAC provides approximately $118 million annually to first nations on reserve in the form of shelter allowance payments under the income assistance program.

It should be noted that INAC does not build or maintain homes on reserve, but rather provides subsidy funding. As Sharon pointed out, first nations or their designated housing authorities are responsible for implementing and managing housing activities on reserve, as well as identifying and obtaining other necessary funding, such as through financial institutions, to complete their housing projects.

The Government of Canada delivered its response to the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on October 12, 2007 and committed to conducting a review of the 1996 on-reserve housing policy. This review was completed in 2007 by the Audit and Evaluation Branch, and will soon be available on INAC's website.

The review of the 1996 on-reserve housing policy recommended that INAC revise and improve the delivery and performance monitoring of its housing program. We are addressing these recommendations in several ways.

We are developing a housing procedures guide that will increase national consistency and delivery of the housing program across the department. We are working on introducing steps to ensure that first nations communities comply with the requirements of the housing policy through the introduction of a compliance regime that identifies both incentives for compliance and consequences for non-compliance.

We are also introducing the integrated capital management system database in all regions and first nations to streamline data collection and reporting and aid in measuring housing program outcomes and performance indicators.

The 1996 on-reserve housing policy review also recommended that a much broader and comprehensive evaluation of all housing programs supported by the Government of Canada be undertaken. This evaluation has begun.

The joint INAC-CMHC evaluation of Budget 2005 funding for on-reserve housing programs will be used to consider policy alternatives to existing on-reserve housing programs. The evaluation includes a review of the current implementation of the housing policy and consideration of future policy alternatives such as a needs-based allocation of housing support. The evaluation will also address the administration of ministerial loan guarantees and shelter allowance and the implementation of community rental and inspection regimes. Preliminary results will be available in summer 2009.

Implementation of the evaluation recommendations will be supported by first nations input, and we expect it will assist in shaping Government of Canada on-reserve housing policies and programs.

Sharon also mentioned indoor air quality. As everyone knows, mould continues to be a concern in First Nation communities. In 2006, the Auditor General and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts recommended that a strategic plan be developed to address the problem of mould in on-reserve housing.

Sharon mentioned that a national strategy has been developed to address mould. I want to go into some of the elements of that national strategy. It identifies five strategic directions and provides a number of specific objectives and action steps to support these directions.

First is building awareness and capacity to deal with mould through education and training; second, providing guidance and support to communities in the prevention and remediation of mould in existing housing; third, preventing mould in new first nations housing; fourth, identifying communities with critical mould problems and determining the scope of the challenges facing them; fifth, building awareness and support for the strategy through proactive communications.

The strategy also calls for an effective regime for managing the further development and implementation of mould-related initiatives. Central to this management regime is the creation of a performance monitoring system to track the performance of the strategy.

In December 2007, the indoor air quality committee completed the first nations engagement process with over 100 key first nations stakeholders. An accountability framework, communications plan, and evaluation approach were developed from December 2007 through March 2008. We expect the implementation of the national strategy to take place during 2008.

Over the past year, INAC has supported innovative projects at first nations communities and through first nations organizations that will facilitate the building of better-quality housing and assist in improving housing management. Projects include the development of community market housing regimes, a building permit system, land management practices, coaching on housing management skills, implementation of rental regimes, and the management of rental arrears.

For example, in British Columbia we partnered with the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council on creating the framework, including land tenure and private sector financing, that will result in a robust market housing regime. The goal is to create a market-based housing program on reserve that supports, encourages, and enables first nations people to participate in home ownership that results in similar benefits to those for people who purchase homes off reserve.

Beyond direct investments in housing, INAC has been active in raising public awareness of the living conditions and the challenges affecting the well-being of first nations. Our department is proud to be one of the sponsors of Closer to Home, a six-part documentary series shown on the aboriginal peoples television network that takes viewers onto reserves across Canada to experience home, housing, and life from a uniquely first nations point of view.

We realize that despite progress, much remains to be done; however, by working with first nations and other housing partners such as CMHC, and by moving forward with innovative approaches such as the first nations market housing fund, we are improving housing in first nations communities.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to the committee.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Barry Devolin

Thank you, Ms. Cram.

We will have time for one round of questions today, and it will be of six minutes instead of seven, in order to try to keep on schedule. I'd like to begin with the Liberal Party.

Ms. Karetak-Lindell, you have six minutes.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Thank you so much for coming before us today. We've dealt with this issue many a time. I'm thankful that we have different programs that can help alleviate the housing shortage in our communities, but at the end of the day we know we face a bottleneck in most communities, where so many people are waiting for social housing.

Most people, I know, in my community cannot afford to have their own homes. They can't afford to go to the bank and take advantage of the new programs. The majority of the people end up needing social housing. Unless we invest in new housing, I think the numbers are going to keep getting worse, because we have the fastest population growths in our communities, and therefore by the time these young people get their house—let's say in three years—they might have three children and need a bigger house than the one they applied for.

As much as we have these programs to help people, I'm wondering whether really we're just nibbling at the top and not getting to the real issue, which is numbers—the people on the waiting list—and the fact that we need to have higher investments in actually building new homes. Even if we do what we do, it's just a drop in the bucket. I just see it getting worse and worse all the time.

My question is, unless we make a real investment in new social housing, we really cannot deal with the shortage of houses in the aboriginal communities—and that's on and off reserve.

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Assisted Housing Sector, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Sharon Matthews

From a CMHC program perspective, as I said, we do have a number of programs in place. Typically there are about 1,000 units renovated each year. There are about 1,000 from new construction. Last year we actually did a little better than that in terms of renovation; we were up over 1,200.

In addition, Budget 2005 allocated over a five-year period $295 million as an additional budget allocation, above and beyond what our normal A-base would be. INAC and CMHC shared in the funding of that initiative. Through CMHC's allocation, which was just over $100 million of that $295 million as of the end of this fiscal year 2007-08, I'm pleased to say that in addition to the normal units we've put on the ground, we've put almost 4,500 new construction units on reserve. We also did renovation of an additional 1,200 units.

Certainly there is no doubt...and I don't think anybody here would suggest that we're keeping up with the pace. As you said, on reserve the growth is significant. But there's another challenge on the ground. I can tell you from a first nations and CMHC delivery perspective that that $295 million budget tripled--almost quadrupled--delivery on the ground during that period. I can tell you that first nations were pushed to the max in terms of the ability and the capacity to get those dollars and the units delivered on the ground.

So as I emphasized in my opening comments, certainly dollars and budgets matter, but capacity development and building that on the ground take time. When they suddenly did get that injection, I can tell you, a lot of first nations really struggled to make it work. Certainly our staff on the ground as well was trying to make sure that we got that budget delivered as quickly as we could.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

My understanding, though, is that it was a one-time investment.

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Assisted Housing Sector, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Sharon Matthews

That was a one-time investment out of the 2005 budget.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

How much time do we have? Can I pass it on to Tina?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Barry Devolin

You have about a minute and twenty seconds.