Senators look to VIU for housing solutions

NANAIMO – The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples visited Nanaimo last week as part of a study into on-reserve housing.

A Vancouver Island University program is “tailor made” to deal with home maintenance issues on First Nations reserves, according to the chairman of a senate committee.

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples stopped at Vancouver Island University and Nanoose First Nation last week as part of a study of on-reserve housing.

The cross-Canada study, which began last fall, has found that reserves are grappling with issues of land tenure, home inspections and government funding levels that meet population growth. Now committee members are turning to communities for examples of innovation and what’s being done right, says senator Dennis Patterson, chairman of the committee.

Nanoose First Nation, for example, was looked at for its approach  to modern home building and initiatives around waste reduction and composting while Vancouver Island University has trained aboriginal trades people and launched a program to train house inspectors and on-reserve housing managers.

The university has recently put the housing manager program online and is in talks to expand it to Quebec.

According to Patterson, the course is tailor-made to deal with challenges of house maintenance on reserves, as well as working with national funding agencies.

“All across the country we have seen the frustrations that housing managers have dealt with. It’s a very tough job,” Patterson said, adding senators have also been shocked at the lack of building inspections for new construction, which likely leads to health and safety issues. “So, I think definitely the committee will look at the programs here, which are now being morphed into online programs, as a potential for dealing with the capacity issues we’ve seen from coast to coast.”

Nancy Hamilton, manager of continuing education and contract services for the university’s Cowichan campus, said the housing manager program alone started as a pilot program in 2008 and has since developed into six courses offered online. It’s meant to help managers understand their jobs, how to manage housing stock, communicate and do construction and renovation. The job has a lot of scope, she said, adding the latest group of students average 30 years old, and are required to be a technical writer, landlord and project manager for their reserves.

“So that capacity and that confidence is needed, then we give them the professional development and the different communication skills because it’s huge,” she said.

An interim report by the committee, including recommendations, is expected in December.