Housing Urban Aboriginal Peoples

Tawaak Housing Association is one of many Urban Native Housing Corporations that sprung up in most major Canadian cities since the early 1970’s in response to a growing need for a separate Aboriginal housing program within the over all framework of the Canadian social housing delivery system. Given existing patterns of societal actions (discrimination and exclusion) coupled with the Aboriginal community’s education and employment levels (lower than the non-Aboriginal population in both), was a recognition that the core housing needs of an urban Aboriginal population, migrating from rural areas and reserves, could be better served by separate and distinct Aboriginal housing groups.

Formed in 1981, Tawaak Housing Association is a private non-profit housing corporation that owns, operates and delivers socially assisted rental housing in six urban areas of Nova Scotia. The mandate of the housing corporation is to provide suitable, adequate and affordable housing to Aboriginal peoples of low to moderate income who reside in urban areas of the province, who cannot attain housing through the regular housing market. Assisted by both the Federal Government and the Government of Nova Scotia, Tawaak’s portfolio consists of fifty-four properties comprising of one hundred and forty-five units supported under the Urban Native Housing Program and the Private non-profit housing program. Approximately eighty-two percent of the portfolio is located in the urban centers of Halifax and Dartmouth, while the remainder are located in Sydney, Truro, Antigonish, Liverpool and Bridgewater.



In addition, Tawaak Housing owns and operates two six-unit Supportive Housing apartment complexes for homeless Aboriginal peoples. The objective is to provide supportive housing to urban Aboriginal homeless persons and their families that will serve as an intake point for the homeless, helping to move them along the continuum of supports to qualify for affordable rental housing. The goal of this project is to make housing available to homeless Aboriginal peoples who otherwise may not have access to housing accomodations under current social housing programs by establishing a supportive housing residence for the homeless. Moreover, Tawaak has developed partnership arrangements with other Aboriginal groups and social agencies to establish a viable supportive network to assist Aboriginal residents gain access to employment, training, educational and other social and economic opportunities.

As a result of these Native housing programs, Native communities in Nova Scotia and across Canada have greatly improved the quality of housing for Aboriginal peoples and this was accomplished by utilizing the skills and determination of Native peoples. Central to this progress was the use of an Aboriginal delivery and administration mechanism that is sensitive to the distinct needs and cultural differences.


Historical Perspective

Between the late 1960’s and early 1970’s not-for-profit family housing in Canada originated from a combination of social and economic needs and changes within the inner city urban environment in which low income families were served through government owned and operated public housing. In 1970, the Government of Canada launched a $200 million dollar demonstration-housing program focusing on housing needs in major urban areas and produced a variety of innovative projects, one of which was an Aboriginal housing project in Winnipeg. In 1974, despite some objections for a separate program, the Federal Government, through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, launched the Urban Native Housing Program under the National Housing Act to provide deeper shelter subsidies for low-income Aboriginal families, thus ensuring some degree of financial stability.

In 1977, the Government agreed that the new non-profit housing program utilizing private lender capital financing should be used for Aboriginal housing. CMHC agreed to set aside 400 units a year begining in 1978. Under the new program, the Government provided mortgage interest assistance in the form of non-repayable subsidies over the life of the mortgage, usually set at thiry-five years. The number of Aboriginal housing units and delivery institutions increased significantly over the next few years.

In 1981, Tawaak Housing Association officially opened its doors with the purchase of 13 properties. By 1995, Tawaak had acquired a total of 57 properties at which time the Federal Government had announced that no further funding would be provided for new social housing acquisitions. In 1996, responsibility for administration of the Urban Native Housing Program had been transferred to the Province of Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, the program provided Tawaak an opportunity to produce a variety of innovative rental projects in which mostly older housing in the city was purchased, renovated and rented to low to moderate income Aboriginal families who had no other means to acquire modest housing through market housing.

In 2008 – 2009, Tawaak Housing Association recieved 2.268 million dollars from the Federal Off Reserve Aboriginal Trust Fund for capital improvements to its housing stock in the areas of retrofit and preservation. With this assistance, Tawaak Housing Association was able to refurbish much of its housing stock, thereby improving the quality of life for Aboriginal peoples residing in urban areas.


Social Ramifications of Aboriginal Housing

Adequate, suitable and affordable housing provided by urban Aboriginal housing institutions, such as Tawaak Housing Association, have a measurable and profound impact upon the well being of off-reserve Aboriginal households. Aboriginal tenants indicate that their accommodation contributes to their family stability and access to education and employment. Aboriginal owned and operated housing also helps to preserve and reinforce cultural identity of Aboriginal peoples. Improvement in community morale, identity and self-worth is a central part of the healing process.

Moreover, decent housing provides space for all members of a family to be satisfactorily accommodated. In addition, access to affordable accommodation and basic amenities provides a sense of permanence, providing roots in the city while maintaining ties with reserve and rural communities. Good housing also helps Aboriginal children by providing the opportunity for them to get a good education in a stable environment. Good housing also contributes greatly to community spirit. Sound, well-kept housing frequently inspires occupants to maintain and beautify the grounds on which the house is located.

Under the Urban Native Housing Program, Tawaak has provided counseling and referal services to assist families in adapting to urban life and to benefit from other programs within both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. As a result, Tawaak Housing has been able to offer more than just a real estate or property management function. We have been able to integrate other programs, such as employment and educational initiatives, child and health care, and other social and economic initiatives, by working in close consultation and cooperation with other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal agencies.