NICHI working alongside Indigenous-led service providers to tackle housing insecurities

November 7, 2023
Taylor Pardy (CMHC), Alex Miller (Big Block), Jason Mercredi (Métis Nation Saskatchewan), and Chris Sicotte (CMHC).

All across the country, Indigenous people are residing in substandard living conditions, with Indigenous people being 300% more likely than non-Indigenous people to live in a home in need of repairs, and nearly twice as likely to live in overcrowded housing. Indigenous people are also overrepresented in all provinces and territories in experiencing houselessness or homelessness, including hidden homelessness like couch surfing.

National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Inc. (NICHI) was created in 2022 to help address the pressing issues of housing adequacy and security — to maintain and create housing and to enforce it as a human right for Indigenous people living in urban, rural, and northern communities across Canada. Many of these communities are facing a severe lack of affordable and safe housing, which is only furthered by buildings with infestations, poor water, and in unsafe locations. NICHI aims to help those experiencing housing insecurity, whether it be homelessness, precariously housed, or at risk of violent situations.

NICHI determined a For Indigenous, By Indigenous approach is required to increase access to affordable housing, to create housing that is supportive and culturally-appropriate, and to end homelessness for Indigenous people.

NICHI lists their focus areas as:

  1. Ensuring equitable distribution of funds to Indigenous households in core housing need.
  2. Ensuring sustainability of existing units operated and maintained by Indigenous housing providers and service agencies.
  3. Building subsidized Indigenous-owned and operated housing units over the next 10 years.
  4. Creating supportive housing units for individuals as well as families with intensive support needs.
  5. Providing rent/affordability assistance to Indigenous households who have access to good market housing but cannot afford their rent or ownership housing costs.
  6. Establishing a support plan that creates pathways providing Indigenous people with different options on the housing continuum, including access to affordable homeownership.
  7. Providing funding to embed culturally appropriate wraparound services and enable cultural recognition within housing to support the success of individuals and families.

Funding for urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing

In June 2023, the Canadian federal government allocated $281.5 million for safe and affordable Indigenous housing projects, with NICHI committing to distributing the funding. NICHI has since rolled out plans to deliver this funding through Indigenous-led, nonprofit projects and organizations which will address the housing rights of Indigenous peoples living off reserves, away from their traditional communities.

While this funding is a step in the right direction, the federal government’s National Housing Council suggests the actual number needed for funding Indigenous housing is more than $6 billion per year.

Big Block Community Development Coordinator Kyla Earle is hopeful that once NICHI meets their goals and deadlines for the $281.5 million received to date, they will be allocated the level of funding required to meet all the goals they have set forth.

Until recently, Kyla had a strong focus in housing co-operatives, and since starting with Big Block, she’s grown familiar with many lucrative funding opportunities across the housing continuum. Above all, she’s interested in seeing NICHI’s For Indigenous By Indigenous approach unfold.

Kyla said she was pleased to see NICHI designate funding for two different purposes:

  1. Up to $1 million for Capacity & Organizational Development, which NICHI says is “targeted to project development, on the ground assistance, operational shortfalls and other project development requirements such as modernisation and improvement needed to ensure project success/continuity.”
  2. Between $1 million and $10 million for Capital Development, which can be applied to large scale projects, major renovations, new builds, and similar such projects.

“For many housing projects that are underway, or almost ready to launch, access to stackable capital can make all the difference,” Kyla said. “For those just getting started on envisioning a new project, there is funding and support available for early stage pre-development, too.”

Eligibility criteria

With the federal funding now in place, NICHI is beginning a mobilization process that prioritizes those most in need.

Housing providers in all regions of Canada are eligible to apply if they are:

  • Indigenous-led or Indigenous-owned and/or organizations that either partner with Indigenous organizations or are strongly supported by Indigenous peoples in the community.
  • Non-profit.
  • Addressing urgent and unmet needs for Indigenous peoples in urban, rural, and northern communities.
  • Providing either supportive housing, transitional services, or operational support.

“Both core and capital funding will be particularly beneficial to groups looking to redevelop or establish new transitional and supportive housing projects within the next year or two,” Kyla said.

Application window

The application window for Expressions of Need opens on Nov. 24, 2023 and closes on Jan. 12, 2024, with the Community Housing Transformation Centre receiving and screening applications.

In late January 2024, the recipients of funding will be blindly selected by a seven-member volunteer Advisory Council of neutral, non-housing providers, with a focus on the most urgent, unmet needs, to ensure a distribution that is fair and equitable to housing providers of all sizes, capacities, and locations.

At NICHI’s initial webinar on Oct. 30, they announced that they are aiming to distribute the funding dollars, and have all the core and capital funding awarded to groups by the end of January 2024.

“The speed of their funding distribution is very fast,” Kyla said. “It means those dollars are going to be put to use in impactful ways, very quickly.”

‘For Indigenous, By Indigenous housing in action’

Kyla said funding dollars often do not roll out as quickly as non-profits need them to, so she’s pleased to see NICHI aiming to get the funding to Indigenous-led groups addressing urgent, unmet needs across the country as quickly as possible.

“It’s For Indigenous, By Indigenous housing in action,” she said. “NICHI has an impressive and built-in sense of urgency. Their quick application turnaround really speaks to their focus on helping Indigenous people get the support they need so they can advance along the housing continuum.”

Kyla said funding dollars often do not roll out as quickly as non-profits need them to, so she’s pleased to see NICHI aiming to get the funding to Indigenous-led groups addressing urgent, unmet needs across the country as quickly as possible.

NICHI’s process takes a uniquely Indigenous approach, based on traditional knowledge, to listen to Indigenous-led housing and service delivery providers on topics that include:

  • Project funding requirements and how it will help.
  • Housing need the project addresses in the community.
  • Placement on the Indigenous housing continuum.
  • Urgent and unmet needs to be addressed.

Kyla is looking forward to further information on NICHI’s call-out process, scoring, and requirements as they are made available. Those interested can join her in attending the next NICHI funding allocation webinar on Nov. 16 at 12 pm EST – register here.

Continuing forward momentum

In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Indigenous households are nearly twice as likely to be in housing need than the rest of the population.

“We see such great need, and such great ideas from Indigenous-led groups who are working through multi-unit housing development journeys,” Kyla said.

More than 100 Indigenous-led service providers are working through NICHI to provide housing for those who need it most. But with the rise of housing costs and lack of appropriate investment, it’s not unusual to see projects falter.

“Big Block is ready to support groups who are looking to access funding opportunities through NICHI and put it to use serving communities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta,” she said. “We want to continue that forward momentum and do our part to get projects off the ground in a short timeframe.”

Big Block is a non-Indigenous organization that has successfully supported Indigenous groups through the development journey to build new multi-unit housing in the Prairie provinces.

Big Block VP Community Development Nick Sackville said the level of support when it comes to navigating pre-development and funding programs, is a big part of what sets Big Block apart as a development partner, as opposed to a design-builder or general contractor.

“Big Block follows your lead, listening and working with you to bridge capacity where and as you need,” he said. It’s a tailored approach with the aim being to “maximize your chances of being selected in competitive funding applications so you can build more of the housing your community needs.”

Nick Sackville, Big Block’s VP Community Development, speaking on rapid housing solutions for strong communities at the (SEDA) Provincial Summit in October 2023.

“We act as a true development partner, who is there to collaborate and equip you with a preliminary concept design, budget, and timeline – all while leveraging proven advancements in building science – and then we are there to follow through and make the building a reality with lasting, generational impact,” Nick said.

Reach out to our Community Development team today at 306-518-7650 or to tell us about your project idea and let’s explore how Big Block can best provide support.

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