Constance Lake’s consistent house-building efforts were rewarded with the 2014 Community Innovation Housing Award at the 12th Annual First Nations Northern Housing Conference.
“Our housing development over the years has been consistent and very manageable,” said Corrina Cheechoo, Constance Lake’s housing program manager. “We have a good sound team — we are all working towards the same goal so we can provide safe homes for our community members.”
The road-access community located near Hearst, Ont. began their new housing program in the late 1990s by building 10 houses in the inaugural year. Over the past 15 years, the community of about 820 on-reserve citizens has built about 106 homes, including a senior’s complex with 10 apartments, a five-plex for single tenants and six-unit row housing complex.
Cheechoo said the overcrowding situation has improved in the community due to all of the new homes, but there are still some issues with mould in some homes.
“We have a housing committee in place now,” Cheechoo said, noting the housing committee wants to encourage community members to take pride in and better care of their homes. “So that is the one goal we are going to be working towards.”
The community has built a variety of homes, including band-owned, rent-to-own, rentals and transition units. About six families have also built their own homes through the Loan Insurance Program On-Reserve with Ministerial Loan Guarantee (Section 10) process.
“I find that people are starting to take better care of their homes now,” Cheechoo said.
Batchewana First Nation, located near Sault Ste. Marie, was awarded the 2014 Innovation Housing Award for its New Tenant Orientation Process, which requires new tenants and homeowners to participate in a home maintenance course where they are instructed on how the house works, as well as how the furnace, water heater, sump pump, stove and fridge are maintained.
“It is very unique in all First Nation communities,” said Lisa McCormick, Batchewana’s tenant liaison counsellor. “We actually let the tenants have a say in the selection of the type of house they want built, their countertops, everything from their paints to their flooring.
They are very involved in the selection process and we feel that is going to instill pride in their home. Hopefully they will take care of it a little bit better.”
Delegates from about 80 communities attended the First Nations Northern Housing Conference, which was held from Feb. 11-13 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay.
The conference featured a variety of workshops and sessions, including four plumbing installation demonstrations and competitions with Jon Eakes; Woodstoves: Fire Safety and Prevention; Residential Indoor Air Quality; Basic Home Maintenance; Tips, Tricks and New Tools for Plumbing; First Nations Market Housing Fund and Housing Policy: Protecting People and Property.
Since the first First Nations Northern Housing Conference was held 12 years ago, it has become the leading source for information in First Nations housing.
“For housing staff in many remote communities, the annual housing conference is the only chance they have to speak to their counterparts, to learn from industry experts, and to discover new materials and techniques,” said Charles Hebert, technologist for Shibogama First Nations Council and member of the First Nations Northern Housing Working Group. “We are very proud of this event but we are even more proud of the First Nations housing professionals that take the information offered and go and affect great, positive change in their communities.”
This year’s conference focused on making houses homes.
“There is so much more to an effective housing plan than just building more houses,” Hebert said. “If care and proper maintenance techniques are employed, the houses we build will last many times longer and will be healthier and safer to live in.”
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