On-Reserve Housing Reform Engagement 2016 Discussion Guide: Beyond the first step

All Canadians need and deserve housing that is safe, adequate and affordable. Without it, Canadians feel less secure and that makes it harder to accomplish every other goal—from raising healthy children to pursuing education, jobs and opportunity. When affordable housing is in short supply, Canada's whole economy suffers.

Budget 2016


As stated in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter, one of the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett’s top priorities is to collaborate with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, and engage with First Nations and other partners to improve housing outcomes on reserve.

Housing conditions are considerably poorer on First Nation reserves than in non-Indigenous communities. Housing needs continue to grow on-reserve due in part to the fact that Indigenous peoples represent the fastest growing segment of Canadian society. In 2011, the housing shortage was around 20,000 units; 21% of on-reserve households were crowded; and almost 40% of on-reserve households lived in dwellings in need of major repair. For more information on housing conditions on reserve, consult the June 2015 Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples report On-Reserve Housing and Infrastructure: Recommendations for Change (PDF only).

As a first step, Budget 2016 provides $554.3 million over the next two years to address urgent housing needs on reserve. Of this amount, $416.6 million over two years will be provided to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to improve on-reserve housing conditions, reduce overcrowding, increase health and safety, and advance Canada’s renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples.

In addition to current investments in the First Nation On-Reserve Housing Program, these new investments will be mainly allocated through a call for proposals launched May 16, 2016 for three new funds:

  1. On-Reserve Housing Immediate Needs Fund – to support First Nation communities in immediate need for the construction of multi-unit housing, renovations and additions or lot servicing on reserve south of 60° and in the Yukon
  2. On-Reserve Housing Capacity Development Fund – to support projects that increase the ability of First Nation peoples on reserve to govern, manage and maintain their housing portfolio
  3. On-Reserve Housing Innovation Fund – to support First Nation communities using innovative approaches to on-reserve housing management and governance that benefit the entire community

There will be a second call for proposals in 2017-2018.

About this discussion guide

The proposed investments are a first step. A new approach to support on-reserve housing is needed to achieve better long-term outcomes for First Nation communities.

The Government of Canada is engaging in a renewed, respectful, and inclusive nation-to-nation process, to make progress on issues most important to First Nation communities. The Government of Canada is committed to working in collaboration with First Nations, as well as other partners to develop an effective long-term approach to improving housing on reserve as part of a broader National Housing Strategy.

INAC, with support from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and First Nation regional and national representative organizations, is engaging First Nation communities and other partners to seek input on the reform of current on-reserve housing programming and longer-term housing investments. For more information on existing programs, see Annex A.


The desired outcome of this future reform is to ensure that an effective long-term approach to support the management, construction and maintenance of an adequate supply of housing on reserve is developed, which will lay a foundation toward achieving better housing outcomes for First Nation communities.

Guiding principles

From what we have heard so far, these principles have been developed to frame and support a new long-term strategy for on-reserve housing:


The scope of the engagement for the on-reserve housing reform includes:

All options will be explored and considered.

Discussion questions

These questions were created based on the guiding principles to frame and support a new and long-term strategy for on-reserve housing.

  1. What are the core issues, gaps and/or challenges related to on-reserve housing?
  2. How can the Government of Canada and in particular INAC and CMHC support strengthened self-reliability and autonomy of First Nations with regard to on-reserve housing?
  3. What roles, responsibilities and mutual accountability should partners, including but not limited to First Nation governments, INAC and CMHC, have for on-reserve housing?
  4. How can the Government of Canada better support community development in general?
  5. How can on-reserve housing be better sustained over the longer term?
  6. How could the capacity building of First Nation communities be better supported?
  7. Do you have suggestions on innovative approaches to housing construction and maintenance?
  8. Do you have suggestions regarding different funding methods for on-reserve housing?
  9. Do you have suggestions on how we can improve approaches for all communities, and in particular rural and remote communities?
  10. Is there anything else you would like to suggest as potential solutions, which may include changing the structure and functioning of the government as a whole, and how would you recommend we implement these suggestions to support a new and long-term strategy for on-reserve housing?

We would like to hear your thoughts on these, and on any other input you have on how on-reserve housing reform should be designed. You can submit your responses:

by mail:

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
Community Infrastructure Branch
10 Wellington, 25th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H4

by email to:


Privacy statement

Participants are solely responsible for the content of their comments submitted to INAC and any personal information inadvertently provided will be destroyed immediately. The information you provide is collected under the authority of the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act for the purpose of participating in the on-reserve housing reform engagement process.

Right to use

While INAC has the right to unconditionally use any and/or all ideas and comments submitted during this process, please be assured that all participant comments/ideas will remain anonymous.

Thank you for your participation

A summary of feedback received during the engagement process will be posted online. Your feedback will help to shape the way forward for on-reserve housing from coast to coast to coast.

Working together as partners, I am confident that we can make meaningful and immediate progress on the issues that matter most to your communities – things like education, housing, employment, health and mental health care, community safety, child welfare, and stewardship over our land, water and air.

Doing anything less is simply unacceptable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Speech delivered to the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly
December 8, 2015

Annex A: Existing national programs

INAC and CMHC have shared the federal role in supporting access to housing since 1977. Under the 1996 On-Reserve Housing Policy, housing on reserve is a shared responsibility between First Nations and the federal government. First Nations have responsibility for the overall ownership, administration and management of most housing on reserve, as well as for establishing by-laws, planning, zoning, and building regulations.


First Nation On-Reserve Housing Program

Block funding assists First Nations (under the 1996 On-reserve Housing Policy) to plan and manage their housing needs, including the design, construction and acquisition of new housing units as well as maintenance and renovation of existing housing units.

The Housing Subsidy program provides funding to some 200 First Nations that did not opt into the 1996 policy for construction and rehabilitation.

INAC currently provides about $146 million annually (formula-based contribution funding) to First Nations, which they may use for a range of housing activities to support their housing needs. This funding supports a range of minor capital infrastructure needs, including the development of housing plans and lot servicing. INAC provides funding for skills development and knowledge building regarding on-reserve housing to address governance and community level issues.

New on-reserve housing investments can be found in  the About this discussion guide section.

Ministerial Loan Guarantees

The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs has the authority to guarantee up to $2.2 billion in outstanding loans to First Nations. Ministerial Loan Guarantees enable some 80% of First Nations to allow individuals and communities to secure housing loans despite the fact that they cannot give a lender the rights to the property. Communities in third party management, however, are ineligible for Ministerial Loan Guarantees.


On-Reserve Non-Profit Housing Program (Section 95)

Subsidy assistance is available for a maximum of 25 years for the construction or purchase and rehabilitation of rental housing projects on First Nation reserves. Capital funding for these rental housing projects is provided through CMHC Direct Lending or through a private lending institution. The loans are insured under the National Housing Act and guaranteed by INAC.

Proposal Development Funding is available to First Nation councils who are interested in developing a project proposal for the On-Reserve Non-Profit Housing Program.

On-Reserve Housing – Retrofit Initiative

This program offers financial assistance for renovations and general improvements of social housing projects under existing CMHC agreements such as the On-Reserve Non-Profit Housing Program. Projects must be subject to and in compliance with an operating agreement. Modifications may also be made for persons with disabilities and to help reduce overcrowding.

Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Programs (RRAP) On-Reserve

Funding is available through several programs to repair or rehabilitate existing substandard housing to a minimum level of health and safety, to build special access for persons with disabilities, to help reduce overcrowding, and convert nonresidential properties into rental housing. Households may be eligible depending on their household income. The level of assistance provided depends on the cost of eligible repairs.

Emergency Repair Program (ERP) On-Reserve

Financial assistance is available to help low-income households to make emergency repairs required for the continued safe occupancy of their home. Only those repairs urgently required to make a home safe are eligible for assistance.

Home Adaptations for Seniors' Independence (HASI) On-Reserve

This program offers financial assistance to help First Nation councils pay for minor home adaptations to extend the time that low-income seniors can live in their own homes independently. Individuals aged 65 years and over whose household income is at or below the income limit for their area may apply and be eligible to receive funding to cover material and labour costs incurred in completing eligible adaptations. Eligible modifications may include handrails in hallways and stairways, grab bars in the bathroom and lever handles on doors.

Shelter Enhancement Program (SEP)

Financial assistance is available to First Nation councils operating shelters for victims of family violence. Funding is for the repair of existing facilities or the construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of new emergency shelters and second-stage housing. Modifications may also be made to accommodate persons with disabilities, security of occupants and children's play areas.

CMHC Insured Loans secured by a Ministerial Loan Guarantee (formerly known as Section 10 Loans)

Ministerial Loan Guarantees (MLG) are a tool provided by INAC to assist First Nations and their members in accessing loans for housing on reserve. CMHC offers insurance for housing loans on reserve that are secured by a MLG. Borrowers must meet CMHC qualification criteria and have a minimum down payment starting at 5 per cent. CMHC does not charge mortgage loan insurance premiums or surcharges.

Insured Leasehold Mortgages of First Nation Lands

CMHC mortgage loan insurance generally requires a mortgage on the freehold property. However, loan insurance may be available for housing units under a long-term lease provided that the lease meets CMHC’s leasehold lending requirements. Eligible CMHC-insured loans on First Nation lands require a minimum down payment of 10 per cent. CMHC’s policies for leasehold lending continue to apply, including payment of CMHC mortgage loan insurance premiums and applicable surcharges.

First Nation Capacity and Skills Development

Capacity development services assist First Nation communities in acquiring the skills, training and resources needed to achieve their housing objectives. Training is provided to First Nations to help improve housing quality and housing management. Course topic areas include building design and construction, client counselling, property management, home maintenance, indoor air quality, mould prevention and remediation, and CMHC housing program management. Most training is delivered through workshops and webinars.

Housing Internship Initiative for First Nations and Inuit Youth

The initiative provides work experience and on-the-job training to assist unemployed First Nation and Inuit youth between the ages of 15 and 30 living in First Nation and Inuit communities to gain work experience in the housing industry. Approved sponsors receive financial support toward the wages of First Nation or Inuit youth employed on housing-related projects.

Federal partnerships

INACCMHC–Health Canada: National Strategy to Address Mould in First Nation Communities

The national strategy is intended to develop sufficient awareness and capacity among First Nation home occupants, communities and institutions so that they can prevent or remediate existing mould problems. The strategy was developed by the First Nation Indoor Air Quality Committee, made up of officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada, and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, working in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations.

Other funding sources

First Nations Market Housing Fund

Facilitates access to private capital to broaden the range of market housing options, including private homeownership and rentals, for First Nations. The fund provides credit enhancement on housing loans issued to First Nations communities by private lenders to provide greater assurance that loans will be repaid by First Nations Bands, who must act as guarantors for individual borrowers.

Income Assistance (INAC Social Program)

Shelter allowance is included in the basic needs component of Income Assistance. The shelter allowance portion is provided directly to the individual to pay rent or mortgage which could be collected with a rental regime in place.

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