Community Counselling & Resource Centre

Ontario's first Habitat home on reserve land built

http://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/2018/02/10/ontarios-first-habitat-home-on-reserve-land-built

February 11th, 2018

NEYAASHIINIGMIING - Keys to Ontario’s first Habitat for Humanity home built on First Nation land were handed to a smiling and grateful Donna Akiwenzie Saturday.

It took three years to get Akiwenzie’s home built. Lots of time was spent in discussions and preparation but it was about more than that, construction manager Al MacDonald said in an interview.

“We’re building trust. I think that’s a lot of it,” he said. “You know, people up here were keeping a pretty close eye on what we were doing, how we did it, how we worked with the community.

“And I think a new partnership is always a learning curve.”

Hers may be just the first of several new homes Habitat builds at Neyaashiinigmiing, said Grey-Bruce Habitat’s executive director, Greg Fryer, in an interview after a tour of Akiwenzie’s new 1,200-square-foot bungalow at 8 Chicks Rd.

He said talks involving the band are underway to build eight more homes at the Cape, this time involving financing from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in which Habitat would be the builder. Construction on those could start in July, if the project has approvals, he said.

Habitat has built 41 homes on Indigenous land across Canada over the past 11 years. In total, 170 homes for Indigenous people, on reserves and off.

But if CMHC approves another Neyaashiinigmiing build, this one would be Canada’s first Habitat-built non-profit housing in which Habitat doesn’t hold the mortgage, the band does, Fryer said.

The band council recommended to a joint Habitat and band family selection committee that Akiwenzie should receive the house and so she was chosen, Fryer said.

Since the about $140,000 mortgage can’t be registered on title on reserve land, Akiwenzie signed over her certificate of possession for the property to the band. That’s the document giving her the right to the property, which can only be transferred to other band members. Half of the reserve is held by individuals, the rest is band land.

The band, as set out in a memorandum of understanding, will use that certificate as collateral to guarantee the mortgage in the event of default. Akiwenzie will be making monthly payments with zero down and zero interest, like any other Habitat homeowner would. She’s already put in her 150 hours of “sweat equity”.

Her previous house on the site was condemned and demolished due to mould caused by a broken pipe under the house to the septic system, she said. The band paid for a new septic so she could rebuild on the same land that she buried her husband’s ashes.

It was a difficult time in her life when her house was condemned. Her husband, Peter Akiwenzie, a former band chief, had just died. Her mother died the day she was to move out, and her nephew died around the same time.

She’d moved into a tiny apartment on the reserve with her son Jesse’s daughter, Chase. She was the primary caregiver for her granddaughter while her son worked out of province.

Band councillor Tony Chegahno, now head councillor, suggested she try to get a Habitat home, she said. Her daughter, Carlene Keeshig, also a band councillor, helped facilitate Habitat-related meetings and her son, Peter, attended all of them with Akiwenzie.

“I think I applied at the right time,” she said in an interview minutes before expressing her thanks in remarks at the key presentation event.

Having Habitat build homes on the reserve “helps close the gap,” Chief Greg Nadjiwon said in an interview.

There’s a waiting list of 40 families for housing, he said. “We have a large, large waiting list of people waiting for either rentals or rent-to-own,” he said. It leads to lots of overcrowded housing.

But the real solution to the housing problem is to spark the economy on the reserve, he said.

There’s a band membership meeting March 7 to ask members what priorities to give various business opportunities. One is to buy land along highway and establish businesses there.

It may be better to put that kind of development there than to build something that would conflict with the natural beauty on the reserve, Nadjiwon said.

“The whole peninsula is a gem,” he said. “We understand the devastation that the influx of tourists is bringing,” though not so much at Cape yet. But more have been stopping to pitch a tent in an isolated area of the reserve because the campgrounds are full, Nadjiwon said, and have been politely asked to leave.

Fryer, the Habitat executive director, noted Akiwenzie was in need and so Habitat went along with the band recommendation to build a house for her. In future, the process will be opened up to all community members, he said.

“We should have in hindsight opened it up to the whole community. But we will do that going forward and not just take one family at a time,” Fryer said.

Before the ceremony, Akiwenzie said she was excited and looking forward to moving into her new home with her son, Jesse, and his 11-year-old daughter, Chase, who attended the event in the Maadookii Seniors Centre meeting room.

She will live in her energy-efficient, three-bedroom home with them. She started moving her belongings in after the last of the visitors to her new home had left.