Great news on the Toronto housing front today! Nancy Martin, President of Miziwe Biik Development Corporation, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Jim Watson, Ontario’s housing minister, to administer a $20 million affordable housing program for Aboriginal people living in the Greater Toronto Area.
“We hope this will be the start of many partnerships with the Province to help put our Aboriginal citizens on a level economic playing field with the rest of Ontarians,” said Miziwe Biik Development Corporation President Nancy Martin.
“Our government and Aboriginal communities, working in partnership, are launching a remarkable housing program to help off-reserve families in the GTA,” said Minister Watson.
Miziwe Biik partnered with Nishnawbe Homes and Toronto Council Fire Cultural Centre, plus the Chiefs of Ontario, to develop an Aboriginal housing and homelessness strategy for the GTA last spring. The Wellesley Institute worked closely with the Aboriginal organizations to provide research, policy and strategic support.
At the Wellesley Institute, our overall mission is to advance urban health, and we know that housing is one of the most important requirements for a healthy life. With our partners, we work to achieve practical and pragmatic change – and today’s announcement is a big step forward.
At the signing ceremony earlier today, Aboriginal people and organizations from across the GTA joined with municipal, provincial and federal officials (and a large media contingent). It was a full-court press from the provincial government, with a troika of cabinet ministers (housing minister Watson was joined by Aboriginal issues minister Brad Duguid and local MPP George Smitherman, who is Minister of Energy and Infrastructure and the Deputy Premier).
While Minister Watson signed on the dotted line, and was happy to take political credit (the media release prepared by the province was headlined: “McGuinty government supports off-reserve communities in the GTA”), he neglected to mention that every one of those twenty million dollars came from the federal government.
The money was part of the $1.6 billion in housing funds authorized by the federal Parliament in 2005, most of which was allocated by the federal government to Ontario and the other provinces and territories in 2006. It’s taken more than two and one-half years for the province to pass along the funds to Miziwe Biik – an Aboriginal agency – which will, in turn, ensure that the money flows to projects that provide Aboriginal housing under Aboriginal control.
There is another $60 million in federal Aboriginal affordable housing dollars in the provincial government’s vaults that is supposed to fund new homes in all parts of Ontario outside of Toronto, but the province hasn’t yet released those dollars. Minister Watson did acknowledge that the delivery of the Toronto funds has been slow, and he promised that the Aboriginal housing dollars for the rest of the province would start to flow shortly.
Apart from the stingy attitude of provincial politicians in failing to credit the federal government, and federal Parliament, for supplying the dollars, there are many reasons to celebrate today’s announcement:
- Hundreds of great new affordable homes for Aboriginal people will be built;
- Valuable momentum from today’s announcement will continue to strengthen Aboriginal organizations in the GTA;
- Aboriginal people will be driving the housing process, and will ensure that Aboriginal cultural values are built into the very fabric of the new homes; and,
- The capacity of the Aboriginal community in Toronto to meet the needs of its people has been enhanced.
Of course, $20 million won’t solve the housing and homelessness problems experienced by Aboriginal people throughout the Greater Toronto Area. But today’s dollars, along with an Aboriginal home ownership program using federal funding flowing through the City of Toronto that has already housed several families, is an excellent start.
All in all, a very good day indeed!