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.