Yellowknives Dene First Nation can't access federal housing loan guarantees

N.W.T. First Nation questions that it cannot access government loan guarantees

Yellowknives Dene First Nation in federal negotiations

Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) asks federal officials to clarify why they do not offer loan guarantees that would give First Nations direct access to federal funds to build homes on their own land.

YKDFN CEO Jason Snaggs partnered with Ryerson University researchers to explain that the First Nation was unable to obtain Ministry Loan Guarantees (MLGs) by Indigenous Services Canada.

A ministerial debt guarantee allows First Nations to receive direct financing from authorised lenders such as Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and the $60 million federal housing fund to resolve the housing shortage in the territory.

Jason Snaggs, CEO of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation
Jason Snaggs, CEO of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, partnered with Ryerson University researchers to figure out why the First Nation did not receive ministerial loan guarantees from a federal housing initiative intended to do so.

In 1966, MLGs were first offered to promote reserve-building. The guarantees have double default debt protection where the builder is vouched by a band council and the minister guarantees loan recovery in case of default. The policy was extended to include non-reserve territories where aboriginal peoples usually live.

Territory-wide issue

Leah Cooke, a researcher at Ryerson University's Together Design Center, says the problem extends beyond YKDFN and works to make loans more widely accessible to all First Nations around the NWT.

They submitted results to CMHC and Aboriginal Services Canada.

"It's difficult because of several federal divisions involved. What we've been able to ascertain so far is that no First Nation, irrespective of tenure, has accessed this [Ministerial Loan Guarantee] scheme in the NWT. That makes it far harder for them to access housing," Cooke said.

Snaggs said Matt Spence, Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada's provincial director-general, was more or less prepared to collaborate with YKDFN to ensure access to this."

CBC demanded Canadian Mortgage Housing Company documents.

An email reported that the CMHC met with YKDFN to discuss financing options through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and National Housing Plan.

The spokesperson said ministerial loan insurance within Indigenous Services Canada's authority. CBC demanded further clarification from the department on Monday, but has not received a reaction to its questions.

Building 'disaster' without ministerial loans

The Together Design Lab study notes that most land tenancy in the developed areas surrounding Dettah and Ndilo's Yellowknives Dene First Nation communities tends to fulfill all ministerial loan guarantees conditions and ministerial loans should be granted.

The property on which the villages are constructed is known as federal Crown land and the band is not owned while controlled. It's public property outside First Nations reserves, including the YKDFN, who haven't resolved their land claims.

The study also highlights that in 2010, an analysis of the ministerial loan program showed that more than half of First Nations respondents thought that without MLGs, there would be very few opportunities for reserve accommodation" and it would be a "disaster."

In this case, Dettah and Ndilo, not on reserve property, the Together Concept Lab study says.

It goes on to state that "permission to inhabit does not offer property rights or interests, posing an obstacle for tenants to access housing finance such as mortgages," as land cannot be rented, purchased or sold.

This makes it possible for a bigger organization like a housing agency to set up land as collateral, prohibitive or difficult for Northern First Nations, Cooke said.

"In this period, YKDFN was unable to obtain funding or construct its own homes and was forced into a position of dependence on the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to provide housing services," the study says.

Yellowknives Dene now faces a reduction in the number of new units and an uptick in overcrowding without ministerial loan guarantees.

Context view of Ndilo with Yellowknife.
Context view of Ndilo with Yellowknife. The Together Architecture Lab study reports that most land tenure in the developed areas surrounding Dettah and Ndilo's Yellowknives Dene First Nation communities tend to follow all ministerial loan guarantees criteria.

Caught in poverty loop

The N.W.T. Housing Corporation formed a place to help residents manage the $60-million housing fund.

According to Snaggs, a portion of houses constructed on YKDFN land under this housing fund will be transferred to the housing corporation's portfolio without a ministerial loan.

Snaggs says the First Nation fundamentally rejects a paradigm where the building agency owns a majority of the current housing stock and leases it on their own property to Yellowknives Dene.

He said some participants are renting up to $30,000 to the N.W.T. Housing Corporation in arrears and holding in a cycle of poverty due to low home ownership.

"It's against our policy, our First Nation's purpose," he said.

First Nation aims to renew existing lots, train and certify members to develop and use members' rent-to-own models.

Snaggs says YKDFN will continue to meet with federal authorities to ensure that First Nations like theirs will get the funding they deserve, as current aid is not available to other First Nations in the territory.

Two years ago, federal government dedicated $600 million to First Nations Assembly, Snaggs said.

"It's tied to reserves when you look at the announcement. How many reserves are there in the NWT? Maybe two. The others are just new treaties or unsettled First Nations trying to resolve their claims," he said.

Meanwhile they have begun applying for things like CMHC's $1-billion Accelerated Rehousing Program, which provides 100% support.

It will make them understand aspects of their plan, including infilling lots, but he said the fund terms need to be changed to be more in accordance with the construction season of the North and its circumstances.