Four reserves operating under the Gitksan Government Commission are in substantial debt where housing is concerned.
Gitanmaax, Glen Vowell, Kispiox and Gitanyow are all more than $750,000 in the red due to a combination of mismanagement and renter fraud.
Last week the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Turtle Island Associates, an aboriginal-owned, Ottawa-based consulting corporation, led a discussion about strategies to help the villages climb out of debt.
CMHC will partner with GGC and local band office personnel to create the new policies.
Roxanne Harper, Turtle Island consultant and Eel Ground Mi’kmaq member, let Gitanmaax residents know why she was invited by the GGC.
“What’s happening here is the GGC and a housing working group are constructing a new approach to housing,” Harper said.
“A new policy will be made available to the four villages, but before that each village will have the opportunity to customize their policy to suit the individual community.”
The GGC has worked on policy development for more than six months, Harper said.
The $780,00 debt for Gitanmaax is the lowest total of any of the four reserves and part of the reason for the debt was revealed at the meeting.
The Gitanmaax Band office rarely evicts renters when they default on rent payment.
A renter is subsidized by CMHC, the extent of which is determined by the renter’s income.
Sandra Harris, GGC program developer, explained some of the complexities involved in the issue.
“The Gitanmaax band is essentially the landlord and they’ve been too lenient in some cases,” Harris said.
“I mean, there’s somebody that owes around $60,000.
“How are they ever supposed to pay that back?”
Each band has an available annual trust and the combination of unpaid rent and lax evictions has ensured the trust is outpaced, Harris added.
It’s unclear whether a formal housing policy has been in place for any of the four bands under the GGC.
Gitanmaax Band member, Andy Davis, attended the meeting and put some pressure on the decision makers.
“I think the band office workers should be held accountable for this, as well,” Davis said.
“Any organization that was losing this much money would fire the people responsible.”
One current Gitanmaax band councillor, Ross McRae, attended the information session.
“It’s a difficult position to be in, having to kick people out,” McRae said.
In 10 years Gitanmaax has built 38 new units and renovated 144 homes.
“And this has been building for more than 10 years.”
Some ideas mentioned by community members were to ensure that people who don’t pay are given warnings and then will have to find another place to live, for the band to build a list of priority renters based on need and ability to pay and to hold community workshops about home repair.
There are nearly 40 people on the wait list for new housing and through this new policy the GGC and Gitanmaax hope to build a policy that will allow homes to begin construction soon.
The Gitanmaax band encourages all members to give input to what they would like to see in the new housing policy.
For mor information or to give input call Monica Green at 250-842-5297 or the GGC at 250-842-2248.