Chief and council hope this will ease overcrowded housing conditions
With its first major housing project in 16 years,Tobique First Nation is tackling a problem that’s left three-generation families living in crowded conditions.
Band councillor Julian Moulton said by building five houses this year and 10 next year, and switching to an anonymous way to select who gets those houses, he hopes to alleviate overcrowding and restore faith in the system.
“A lot of families are doubled up and there’s families living on top of families, so you’ve got some people living in a four-bedroom house, and there have been cases where there are 10 people living in that house,” he said.
“So this is what we’re trying to do is to restore hope in our people for them to know that we are going to build houses and that the situation is going to get better.”
Almost 250 people are still on the waiting list for a house.
The chief and council created a new eight-member housing authority about a year ago, Moulton said. The goal is to avoid a system where chief and council choose who gets houses, avoiding possible favouritism.
To apply for a house now, members of the First Nation must fill out a survey that asks about the number of people in the family, the number of people they live with and their job status.
The housing authority assesses the anonymous survey answers and decides who has “the biggest need,” Moulton said. Then the names are revealed and the authority contacts the chosen families or individuals.
Moulton said housing may be the first step to battling the other challenges facing people on the reserve.
“In First Nations alone there’s such a high rate of suicide and drug abuse, and I feel that the majority equates to the fact of lack of services and things that are not offered,” Moulton said.
“I see that people tend to start abusing drugs when their sense of hope is destroyed, and I feel that we’re kind of re-establishing that hope now that we’re going to be building houses.”
On the reserve north of Perth-Andover this week, three of the houses were being built on Front Street.
Building the five houses will cost $565,000, which will come from the First Nation, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Moulton said the price is so low because it’s subsidized by the federal housing agency.
The reserve is also on federal land so it doesn’t have to go through the same process as it would for provincial land, including buying a provincial building permit, he said.
Next year the band plans to create a cul-de-sac with 10 more houses.
By the end of September, Moulton said, he hopes the project will be done, adding two one-bedrooms, a two-bedroom, a three-bedroom and a four-bedroom house to the housing stock.
‘It’s our heritage’
B.J. Wolfe, his eight-month-old daughter and his girlfriend are getting one of the new houses.
He said he’s excited his daughter’s room, which will be decorate and painted in blue and purple.
“We’ve been living in my mother’s home and it’s kind of over-crowded, having three generations in the same home is rough,” he said.
“Becoming 30 years old, I really wanted a home of our own definitely, and we have a new child who’s eight months old so we definitely need a home.”
Wolfe said it’s also important for him to be able to stay on reserve and not have to move to Fredericton, where he lived for a short time and felt “disconnected.”
“This is where our culture is, our heritage and our language. My mother is a Maliseet language [speaker] and it’s a dying language, so we definitely want to keep it going.”
He said he’s also looking forward to some independence.
“Feels like I’m growing up, it really does,” he said. “To have a house that we call home, to be ours, to be able to take care of it, and make it grow as a family is definitely exciting.”
‘I get to contribute’
On Wednesday the plumbing and foundation crews were on site, laying gravel over the foundation and nailing plywood to the sides.
Some of the construction crew live on the reserve, including Justin Moulton, who’s been in plumbing for three years. Aside from a project to build a preschool, he said, this is his first time building a house in his community.
It’s important to him to be part of building up the reserve, he said, especially considering the community’s need for more housing.
“It’s good I get to contribute to my community in a good way, make changes in a positive way,” he said.
Moulton said another new approach is getting people to pay for the houses they’re getting. Tenants will be paying subsidized rent that will go toward the mortgage. After about 25 years, they will have the option of ownership of the home as long as they’re not in arrears.
“The homeowners never had to pay for their houses,” he said. “We feel like if you’re paying for something you appreciate it more . … The houses they won’t be destroyed, or people will have more sense of pride, just an appreciation for the house.”
A 5-year strategic plan
Tobique First Nation Chief Ross Perley said the housing project is part of a five-year plan that got the reserve out of a third-party management system.
That system was forced upon Tobique by Indian Affairs because the First Nation was millions of dollars in debt.
Perley said the band was able to make a case, including signing up for a debt-repayment plan, and persuade Indian Affairs to allow the First Nation to control the finances again.
He said the goal is to be independent.