Province kicks off Aboriginal housing effort

It's federal jurisdiction, but enough was enough for B.C. premier John Horgan.

He stood in the great hall of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre on Monday and announced that the provincial government would invest $550 million to provide new on- and off-reserve housing for Aboriginal people in need of a home.

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That's typically the responsibility of Ottawa, but Victoria felt it was an important step to take. The program is designed to construct more than 1,700 homes in the next 10 years across B.C., depending on priorities brought forth by public dialogue and stakeholder feedback.

Horgan refrained from scolding the federal government, and instead talked about how this was but one effort he hoped the federal government would soon join, to give Aboriginal housing the full boost it needed.

"This will be unprecedented," Horgan said. "Historically there has been a 'that's not my responsibility' (attitude) coming from governments when housing was called for. We as a government are tired of that and the people of the province are tired of that... The status quo was no longer acceptable and we had to start doing some extraordinary things."

Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing Selina Robinson was also on hand at the announcement. She said that catching up on housing shortfalls of the past was an important aspect of present reconciliation efforts.

"The housing situation that's facing Indigenous people in British Columbia is absolutely unacceptable," Robinson said. "In fact we know that Indigenous people are overwhelmingly over-represented in the homeless population right across the province. And it makes no difference if the need is on-reserve or off-reserve, it is incumbent on us as a government to be there to help British Columbians when they need it. Regardless of who has jurisdiction, it is the right thing to do."

A third minister was also on hand. Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said that it didn't ultimately matter which level of government made the investment, since the taxpayer to the provincial coffer is the same as the taxpayer to the federal coffer. What did matter was getting a roof over the head of people who could then base a productive life for themselves and their families.

"Addressing all types of poverty saves the taxpayer money," he told The Citizen. "It's not just the right thing to do, whether it's housing or homelessness or any form of poverty. Addressing these issues is a good investment in people and a good investment for the taxpayer. (Regardless of which government department makes the move) it is good for the taxpayer."

The government contingent then departed, guided by local Aboriginal leaders, for a tour of some reserves in the Prince George and Fort St. James areas in particular need of new homes.

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