June 11th, 2019 - Everyone deserves a home, but not everyone has access to a safe and affordable housing situation.
Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS) is a non-profit housing and service provider dedicated to providing safe and affordable housing to urban and rural Indigenous people living off-reserve in Ontario and strive to be the leader in Indigenous housing policy development.
In 1992 there were consultations across the province among grass-roots members of Indigenous organizations for people living off-reserve. The consultations determined that there was a need for affordable and adequate housing for low and moderate income families. On September 1, 1994, Ontario Aboriginal Housing Support Services Corporation was formed. This year OAHS celebrates 25 years of delivering housing services in Ontario. The board of directors consists of members from the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC), the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) and the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).
OAHS’s provincial office is located in Sault St. Marie and other offices are located in Dryden, Peterborough and London. OAHS has several programs that go towards funding housing solutions for Indigenous people across Ontario. For example, the First Nation, Inuit and Métis Urban and Rural (FIMUR) Rental Program provides geared-to-income rental rates on units located near transportation routes, health agencies, grocery stores and cultural centres. This creates financial flexibility that allow families and individuals to afford life’s necessities and a holistic lifestyle.
In 2013, OAHS created 438 new units in collaboration with 13 Indigenous housing providers that grant safe and affordable shelters to people who are homeless, living in over-housing situations, public housing, waitlisted, and people escaping situations of violence. They offer a variety of rentals including 3-bedroom single family homes and apartments of various sizes. A large majority of their locations are in Northern Ontario. They are located in Sault St. Marie, Blind River, Manitoulin, Sudbury (Hanmer), Cochrane, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, and Dryden. There are also two locations in Southern Ontario, Peterborough and Hamilton. OAHS currently employs 73 people across the province, the majority located in Sault Ste. Marie.
Another program offered by OAHS is the FIMUR Assisted Homeowner Program and Repair Program. This program provides a forgivable loan of up to $30,000 to low-to-moderate income Indigenous people looking to purchase a home off-reserve. In 2013, this program made it possible for 734 people to move into their own home, some starting off as rent geared-to-income tenants. To a few, owning a home was just a dream that they had forgotten about. Now the OAHS has made that dream a reality.
The FIMUR program also offers a forgivable loan of $25,000 to cover the costs of repairing a home to bring it up to acceptable standards and to update homes for energy efficiency. This program extends the life of buildings, saves energy and allows for a better quality of life. Both the housing loan and the repair loan are forgiven after 10 years. Due to changes in government funding, the repair program will not be continued for the foreseeable future. There is currently a waitlist for applicants wishing to use the programs. This shows the importance and the needs of OAHS and its programs.
OAHS also provides a variety of other services to meet the needs of Indigenous lifestyles and communities. They can provide referral services for local shelters, crisis centres, financial counselling organizations and cultural and community centres. They also post job advertisements on their website as well as provide educational scholarships.
In 2014, the FIMUR program was extended under the Investment in Affordable Housing Program resulting in the OAHS five-year notional funding of $30.5 million until year 2020. For the future, the OAHS Strategic Plan consists of a limited number of goals such as:
Goal 1: Establish policy based on community need for long-term development and delivery of urban and rural housing and related services.
Goal 2: Achieve economic self-sufficiency.
Goal 3: Address gaps and ensure culturally appropriate, responsible integration of services within the housing continuum.
Goal 4: Ensure excellence in the provision of housing to the Aboriginal community.
Through OAHS, many Indigenous peoples are given the opportunity to own and live in safe and reliable housing.
For more information on OAHS visit their website.
Evelynn Hoffman is the Communications Officer at NPI.
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