Cree interest in private home ownership very high, but issues with readiness remain: report

Programs to increase financial literacy and education encouraging high-income earners to move out of social housing are just some of the ideas put forth in a housing report prepared for the Cree Nation Government. The report was commissioned to evaluate the readiness of Quebec Cree to buy their own house, and to help communities address some longstanding log jams with regard to a lack of housing and maintenance. There is an immediate need for more than 2,000 homes in Eeyou Istchee, and getting more people to move into private home ownership is one way the Cree Nation Government is trying to tackle the housing issue and help build wealth in Cree communities.The report, titled Market Research: Private Housing in Eeyou Istchee, suggests interest in private home ownership is very high, but readiness is low, according to Irene Neeposh.> The report is really useful to plan how to solve problems. \- Abel Bosum, Cree Grand ChiefShe brought together the findings and recommendations of a survey of more than 300 Cree currently living in social housing and from focus groups with housing committees and co-ordinators."Close to 90 per cent of people say they have thought of building," said Neeposh, but added that slightly more than 6 per cent of those people have actually made an application with their local band office. The report makes 18 recommendations to close that gap — like developing programs in financial literacy, project planning and home maintenance. Other recommendations include diversifying the types of housing available and providing financing options for home buyers, with a goal of better supporting Cree who want to buy a home. Obstacles to home ownershipSome of the obstacles to home ownership are inability to save, a lack of financial readiness, low income levels and long waiting lists to build, according to the findings of the research."The report is really useful to plan how to solve problems we have right now for both social housing and private home ownership," said Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum.He also said while financial readiness is an issue, a more fundamental obstacle to home ownership has been band offices with limited ability to guarantee mortgages.In 2019, the Cree government moved to remove a 75-year limit on land leases and Bosum said that will allow Cree homeowners to build up equity in their homes and not need a band guarantee.The Cree government is also setting up a $100-million fund to help more people access private home ownership. It hopes to have the fund in place beginning in April of 2020. The report also points to a need for more financial accountability in the social housing system in Cree communities.Slightly more than half of the survey respondents currently living in social housing said they were up-to-date with their rent and 62 per cent said they had paid their rent in the last month. Neeposh said the housing committees all identified non-payment of rent as a serious problem that has negative impacts."The results from non-payment end up deteriorating the existing units," said Neeposh. "It doesn't also allow for the housing departments to provide services or proper management." Neeposh said most housing co-ordinators recommended more education and accountability in the social housing system to help people understand the importance of paying rent. They also want the Cree Nation to explore the idea of setting up a Cree collection agency to help build financial capacity.Chief Bosum said non-payment of rent is a difficult issue for local housing departments to manage. "Arrears have been an issue for a very long time. That is one of the problems with the program itself, because even if you were to evict someone, where do they go?" said Bosum. He said all levels of Cree government have to work together to look for solutions, adding that it is less of an issue with younger Cree families.High-income earners in social housingThe report also pointed to another problem — high-income earners living in social housing. Neeposh noted that housing department staff said having options in Cree communities like transitional housing, starter homes, rent-to-own and co-rent options could help encourage more high-income earners to move on to private home ownership. The Cree Nation Government will table a housing strategy next week.

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