The Yale First Nation housing team are housing intern Talon Coghill, left, housing manager Crystal Sedore and housing intern Austin Heino. Sedore says Yale First Nation has made progress on the housing front and is now in a position to share their knowledge with other First Nations through a mentorship program. Emelie Peacock photo

Yale-led housing mentorship program, one year on

Program connects B.C. First Nations to resources, each other

Just over a year ago, Crystal Sedore was hearing from First Nations housing managers from across B.C. who were finding it very difficult to manage on-reserve housing.

With strides made in housing in Yale First Nation communities — 10 energy efficient modular housing buildings built since 2014 — Sedore turned her attention to sharing her knowledge with others. The result, the BC First Nation Housing Mentorship Program, has been active for a year and has recently been given money by the Department of Indigenous Services to keep operating for another year.

In the winter of 2016, Sedore, who had been working with Yale First Nation since 2014, sent a survey out to housing managers from other B.C. First Nations.

What she heard back was housing managers were having trouble with basic tasks — anything from what to do if members don’t pay rent to how to set up a filing system —and how to find money to fund their work.

“First of all there is no funding from the government for a housing position,” Sedore said, adding the federal government is working on this.

Not only is there not enough money to hire an expert, often bands will insist on employees hired from within the community.

The result, according to Sedore, “bands are hiring people who don’t have the skill set that they need to successfully manage a housing portfolio, it’s a complex set of requirements to be able to apply for funding and do big project management.”

While Sedore wants to make clear the money from the federal government for on-reserve housing is not nearly enough for the need that exists. However, there is some money available if housing managers know where to look and how to apply for it.

To fill the need, Sedore launched the BC First Nation Housing Mentorship Program website at the beginning of 2017.

So far the most popular part of the website is tools and templates. Sedore said there have been hundreds of downloads from the site which has anything from sample housing policies to inspection reports and eviction notices.

Some of these resources exist on the internet, but this is the first time it all has been brought together in one place.

“It’s just incredible, the results that we’re getting,” Sedore said. “All over North America, we have housing managers and individuals checking in to our website. We even have three hits from Australia.”

People visiting the website are mostly young, 61 per cent of site visitors are between the ages of 18 and 34, with a fairly even split between males and females.

Sedore said they have also held webinars on topics such as mildew and mould, housing needs assessments and environmental hazards in the home such as radon, asbestos and lead.

The program has an on-the-ground presence, with seven housing mentors.

Crystal Hatzidimitriou, housing coordinator at Spuzzum First Nation, is one of the mentors.

“From my standpoint, being newer to the housing community, I’ve only been here for just under three years, it makes a difference,” she said.

Having a network to turn to with questions is very helpful in a job which up until recently had no official education to prepare for it.

“Housing managers aren’t certified, there’s no standards of what you need to do to be in this job. And every job is different, it depends on which community you’re with and what your job description comes down to, so there’s no rules to follow in terms of this is what you do everyday. You really need to work with your community on that,” Hatzidimitriou said.

Vancouver Island University now offers an online certificate program for First Nations housing managers.

Sedore said she also gets a lot of interest from First Nations communities about how to build energy-efficient housing.

“We are the first community to ever build passive house on-reserve in Canada,” Sedore said.

Passive house is a building standard that can reduce the amount of energy used to heat and cool homes by up to 90 percent, according to Passive House Canada.

Two duplexes at the Stullawheets reserve in the Dogwood Valley are in the works. These will also be passive housing, built together with a Fraser Valley modular housing company.

“The reason why I want to build a duplex is because we have several extended families, it’s very much a part of First Nations culture, for families to live together, multi-generational units,” she said.

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