Protocol is Important in the Indigenous Community

We always have dignitaries at pow wows,’ Said the M.C.  Then he proceeded to introduce one. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Kerry Diotte (this is how it was spelled on his agenda). ‘Looking around he said, “Where is she?” 

Someone quickly said, ‘He’, it’s a he.’ Then the MC was embarrassed and not just a little.  As Mr. Diotte came from behind the MC continued to offer an apology and he was really quite upset about his mistake. Mr. Diotte took the mic and went right into his speech. He didn’t acknowledge the error.  He might have been embarrassed himself.  It was hard to tell. Many people would have mentioned it and tried to make light of it saying something like, ‘You are not the first one to make that mistake and probably won’t be the last,’ trying to generate a chuckle from the young crowd.
Mr. Diotte said the usual things politicians say.  Indigenous dancers had danced earlier and Mr. Diotte mentioned their colorful ‘costumes’.  He looked around the field and mentioned teachings that would take place in the tents.  He finished, and then the next dignitary was introduced. 
For the uninformed, here is the contextualization. Indigenous people refer to their ceremonial and pow wow clothing as regalia or outfits.  It is considered offensive to refer to it as costumes.
Regalia has spiritual significance. Secondly, tipis are not tents. There were 6 tipis in the school field and not one single tent.
So if protocol had been observed by both parties, this embarrassing scenario could have been avoided. Mr. Diotte would have been introduced as ‘Mr. Kerry Diotte, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach and Mr. Diotte would have commented on the regalia being colorful and great learning opportunities taking place in the tipis.
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The event was the annual Miyokisikaw/Cree for It’s a good day, hosted at Delton School May 19, 2017. This year 4 elementary schools participated. Students were bused in from Oliver, Norwood, and John A McDougall Schools. 1200 students, 600 in the morning and 600 in the afternoon had the opportunity to experience 20 stations that included; traditional games, hoop dancing, tipi teachings, storytelling, Metis dancing, and drumming.  Each station was about 20 minutes and the students went from one to the next for half the day. It was gratifying to see young students learning positive things about Indigenous people!
 
Article submitted by:
Sharon A Pasula, M.A., Indigenous Cultural & Educational Helper

Ministry Profile: Millbourne Community Life Centre

Many faith communities wonder how they might go deeper in relationship, and in helping address needs in their local neighbourhood.  Often they will have their own building, and wonder what might be possible if they could just open their doors a little wider.

MIllbourne Community Life Centre, supported by the South Edmonton Alliance Church provides some great food for thought on this front.  They are a faith community who pursued the community centre model of engagement.
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Millbourne Community Life Centre is a busy place!
Close to twenty local partners collaborate with the centre to provide a dizzying array of programming and opportunities in service to both the immediate and larger community in Millwoods.  The local community they minister to is very diverse, and is home to people from a vast range of faiths and cultures, such as, Punjabi, Urdu, Latino, Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, and Arabic.  The socio-economic needs of the surrounding community are also significant, with over 1,400 households that fall within the lowest income bracket, as well as 2,500 subsidized housing units within the eleven communities that make up Millwoods.
Working to respond to those needs, the Millbourne Community Life Centre has become a hot spot in the local community, with many partners coming together to provide: immigration support services, a youth ministry centre, We-can food baskets, conversational cafes to aid in learning conversational English, Pre-natal classes, a food pantry and food bank outlet, a refugee medical clinic, a Community mother’s drop-in, a summer community sports camp, cultural fluency seminars, long distance seminary courses in Cantonese, and cross-cultural internships with the University of Hong Kong.
It is also home to three church communities: City South Church (Pentecostal) – 10am-12pm on Sundays, The Multicultural Alliance Church – starting at 12:15pm, and the Light of Life Filipino church, worshipping at 4pm.
It is open seven days a week, and is a hub for all kinds of help and services embedded in the local community. 

So how did this happen?

Ten years ago, the large brick building at 2101 Millbourne Road was home to the Millbourne Alliance Church.  The congregation had met together for over fifty years, and done much good work together, but they had become an ageing and dwindling congregation.  It was becoming clear the time was upon them to close their doors.
Local Alliance Churches began meeting to consider what to do with the building.  After a time, South Edmonton Alliance Church stepped up to sponsor the building as a community outreach, and in 2011 opened it as a community centre for the very diverse neighbourhood.  From the start, they elected to treat any potential organizations as partners, rather than renters.  They decided all their partners would have a seat at the table, and that they would meet regularly.  Together with new partners, they could help to address challenges faced by people in the community.

As the Centre found its’ feet, those partners gradually came to the table.  One of their anchor partners is Youth Unlimited, who run a youth ministry centre out of the basement.  A few years ago, as a partner they renovated the space as a venue for concerts and other types of programming for their youth, many of whom are from immigrant families and learning together under their Christian mentors, how to be Canadian, and caring citizens in their new home.

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There were certainly some difficult transitional moments.  One of those was the decision to take down the large cross that was on the outside of the building.  There were strong feelings on both sides of the decision.  The purpose for doing so, was to facilitate the coming and going for Muslims and other groups who could access ministries in their building.  Those serving today in the MCLC facility are very mindful and deeply appreciative of the tremendous work and sacrifice of those from the original church family, Millbourne Alliance Church!
One significant shift that happened was in how they saw the building.  Tim Cook, the director at MCLC describes this change as moving from a posture of “protecting our stuff,” to “let’s use this building together.”  That posture has made so much possible, with partners willing to invest in upgrades and some renovations.

Certainly, not everything is simple.  The centre is self-sustaining in operating costs, but currently the building needs some larger repairs, including a new roof and parking lot, and investments to make the upstairs accessible.  Finding the money and resources to effect those major repairs is still in the works, but these are normal challenges.  It is likely solutions to this will be generated out of the continuing fruit of the relationships and partnerships built.  Perhaps they will be able to tell that story too in the days to come.

Where is the heart that drives a community ministry like Millbourne community Life Centre?
That heart is expressed well in their vision statement:  “Millbourne Community Life Centre is a place where all, regardless of ethnic or economic background can come to receive an expression of God’s love and find hope that comes through knowing the gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

      This vision fuels a spirit of warmth and welcome that permeates the place.  There is no pressure employed, or any strings attached to any of the help.  But sometimes prayers are shared, and if anyone wants to understand the heart that drives their hospitality, there are several partners there to walk with them on that journey.

Indigenous Poverty in Alberta

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) (2016), Alberta has among the lowest rates of off-reserve Indigenous child poverty in Canada at 26%. In comparison, Manitoba’s rate is 39% and Saskatchewan’s is 36%. The child poverty rate for those with First Nations status off-reserve in Alberta is approximately 39%, while for Metis children the rate is much lower at 20%. For Indigenous children on reserve in Alberta, the poverty rate skyrockets to 60%. According to the National Household Survey (2011), the poverty rate for Indigenous children in the City of Edmonton is 30%, while for non-Indigenous children the rate is approximately 12% (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016).

Canada’s painful history with residential schools, in addition to the chronic underfunding of Indigenous services both on and off-reserve, has left many First Nations communities living in abject poverty (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016). Indigenous peoples can also experience higher rates of diabetes, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, heart disease and obesity (Ubelacker, 2013).

The experience of being forcibly removed from their cultures, traditions and customs during the residential school period can partly explain the present health challenges experienced by many Indigenous peoples (Howard, 2017). In addition, as a result of the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse experienced by many Indigenous peoples in residential schools, there is a general mistrust of mainstream institutions within Indigenous communities, which can exacerbate existing health struggles by discouraging access to health services (FCSS, 2015).

In addition, Indigenous peoples in Edmonton can experience significant challenges when accessing affordable, adequate and safe housing. In the 2016 Point-in-Time Homeless Count in Edmonton, 1,752 people experiencing homelessness were counted. While Indigenous peoples only account for 5% of the Edmonton population, 48% of the homeless population counted identify as Indigenous. Of those individuals, First Nations peoples are represented most significantly with 316 people counted (7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, 2016)

Indigenous peoples are also overrepresented as food bank users in Alberta. In the 2016 Hunger Count, 33.5% of food bank users identified as Indigenous (Food Banks Canada, 2016).

Indigenous peoples also experience significant challenges obtaining employment in Alberta. In 2016, for example, Indigenous peoples had an unemployment rate of 13.8%, compared to 7.9% within the non-Indigenous population. Indigenous peoples also experience lower labour force participation rates than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In 2016, for example, Indigenous peoples had a participation rate of 70.3%, while non-Indigenous Albertans had a rate of 72.6% (Statistics Canada, 2017).



In conclusion, Indigenous peoples in the City of Edmonton and Alberta experience high rates of child poverty and negative health outcomes resulting from the chronic underfunding of services and the harmful legacy of residential schools (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016). First Nations peoples in Edmonton are also overrepresented within the homeless population and food bank users and experience significant employment barriers (7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, 2016).

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By Heather Curtis, Research Coordinator

Edmonton Social Planning Council


Works Cited
7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness. (2016). Alberta Point-in-Time Homeless Count- Edmonton. Retrieved from   http://homewardtrust.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Homeless-Count-2016-Edmonton-Preliminary-Report.pdf
Family and Community Support Services Calgary (FCSS). (2015). Social Inclusion of Vulnerable Seniors – A review of the literature on best and promising practices working with seniors.
Food Banks Canada. (2016). Hunger Count 2016 – A Comprehensive Report on Hunger and Food Bank Use in Canada, and Recommendations for Change. Retrieved from https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/getmedia/6173994f-8a25-40d9-acdf-660a28e40f37/HungerCount_2016_final_singlepage.pdf
Statistics Canada. (2017). Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by Aboriginal group, sex and age group, Canada, selected provinces and regions, annual. CANSIM Table 282-022
Howard, H. (2014). Canadian Residential Schools and Urban Indigenous Knowledge Production about Diabetes. Medical Anthropology, 33(6), 529-545.
Ubelacker, S. (2013, November 28). Aboriginal seniors face more health challenges, report suggests. CTV News. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/aboriginal-seniors-face-more-health-challenges-report-suggests-1.1564234

Together Against the Cold

There are many Biblical Prophecies pointing to terrible hardship in humanity’s future: Of famine, disease, war, death and global cataclysm.  But the one that scares me the most is a small phrase from Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives about the end times in Matthew 24:12.  He simply says, “…the hearts of most will grow cold.”

Why does this word of prophecy scare me more than the others?  Because when the cold of famine, disease, war and death strike, it is those moments of a sharing humanity (in love, generosity, compassion, and sacrifice) that warm, comfort and preserve us, keeping us alive in the face of hardship.

Today, the world really is a cold place for so many of us experiencing great struggle.  Across the world, we see it in the face of refugees fleeing their homes, and leaving behind country, culture and family.  We see it in the gaunt faces of children in places swept by famine, or in lands made barren by war.  And we see it here in our own families and communities:  In those battling a mental illness and depression, often alone.  In trauma from broken or abusive relationships and violence.  In slavery to addictions.  In bitterness and angry wounds that refuse to heal.  In desperate poverty; lacking food, shelter, safety, and supportive community.  It is an unending shiver that sinks weariness into our bones.

So why do we so often choose to answer this cold with cold?  Like those upstanding model citizens in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we often see the need of a neighbour, but choose to keep our distance and keep walking.  When we are asked to respond in some way to the plight of a refugee or the person seeking an affordable home in our communities, we often choose a cold academic discussion about possible negative pressures and impacts on our way of life over a gentler, deeper, wiser and more compassionate conversation that acknowledges the humanity of our neighbour and seeks health and vibrancy for all.

“The crisis is too big for us to get involved in,” we say.  “Their wounds are too angry, and we do not have the skills to help them.  We need to protect ourselves; afraid that this person may turn around and hurt us.  We do not believe it is possible for someone to heal from this trauma, break from their past, or break from an addiction.  Better to keep our doors locked tight, and let our neighbours sort out whatever hand God, or fate, or their own actions have dealt them.  Best look out for number one.  Best keep walking.”

Or we can choose to respond with warmth and humanity as the Samaritan (an outsider) did in Jesus’ parable.   On seeing this man lying naked and half dead on the side of the road, “he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

For followers of Jesus, choosing the cold response is not an option.  It is true that we as people are limited in what we can do.  We cannot solve every problem, or respond to every crisis, and we must always find time to rest along the way.  But we must always be ready to respond as God calls us: to a life full of love, hope and trust, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, commitment, compassion, hospitality, self-control, wisdom and sacrifice; to live as steady and warm expressions of the loving God we serve.
…so the cold does not win.

Below is a link to a powerful award-winning video that I think speaks beautifully to this work of fighting together against the cold:

The Deepening Community Rap

By Pastor Mike Van Boom, from Centrepointe church (Christian Reformed)

A Journey Together in Grief, Healing and Hope – July 6, 2017

This year the World Indigenous Games are coming to Edmonton on July 2-9, 2017. To align with this event, Edmonton’s Interfaith Housing Initiative and End Poverty, along with partners from the aboriginal community are organizing a gathering with faith leaders, new immigrant community leaders, and members of the aboriginal community. We hope to build bridges for understanding, hope and healthy relationship for our journey together on Turtle Island (North America).

The gathering will take place at: Edmonton Native Healing Centre; 101-11813 123 street.  The event begins at 9:00 am on Thursday, July 6, 2017 and continues until lunch is concluded (around 1:30pm)

Our plan is as follows

1. We will begin with a smudge ceremony/prayer
2. then participate in a blanket exercise; which is a way to experience the major changes in North American History from an aboriginal perspective.
3. We will then move into a talking circle, where we will make space to grieve together, and move toward hope and healing.
4. Afterwards, we will share a meal together (provided).

 

As space is limited to a maximum of forty participants, please respond early in order to ensure you are able to participate.

Send your RSVP to the following email addresses, and indicate any food preferences:
mike@interfaithhousing.ca (Interfaith Housing Initiative)
sam.singh@edmonton.ca (End Poverty Edmonton)

 

On behalf of CRIHI and End Poverty,

Michael Van Boom

Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative

interfaithhousing.ca

 

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Brander Gardens ROCKS!

…and so do the many partners (including local faith communities) who have come together to make it possible!

    Going to school in a more affluent neighbourhood can be a tough challenge for kids who are from low income families or are new to Canada.  They watch their classmates regularly head off to Mexico for vacations.  Opportunities like music lessons or getting onto higher level sports teams can be out of reach as their families need to invest far greater energy into paying the bills and keeping food on the table; along with confronting a host of other barriers like language and cultural literacy.  The opportunities for these kids just aren’t the same.

That’s where a program like BG Rocks comes in; a grass root organization involving many of the families living in the Brander Gardens housing complex operated by Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC).  This program offers help, opportunity and builds community far beyond what CRHC is able to provide.  It is the community’s involvement in the program that contributes to the success.  The organization leads away from ‘Us versus Them’ thinking to one of working together in the community.

Brander Garden ROCKS offers after school programs, a music school, community gardens, community meals, Mom and Tot programs, summer programs including camping, academic programs, and adult enrichment programs (including community involvement with WECAN food basket, make tax time pay, art enrichment, providing help with English and opportunities to volunteer right in their community).

What really makes something like this succeed is the strong circle of support they have received from neighbourhood partners. There are nearly thirty collaborative partners such as local schools, community leagues and libraries that have partnered with Brander Gardens ROCKS.  Organizations like Sports Central, KidSport and the local Terwillegar Riverbend Soccer Association support nearly thirty youth each year to participate in the soccer program.  The Community league pays for the use of the Gym at the Junior High and offers space for the Mom and Tots program.  The Terwillegar Riverbend Advisory Council helps by hosting information on their website and is their fiscal partner. The financial support of REACH and the City of Edmonton, and Canada Summer Jobs make this a broad community effort!

One key partner for BG Rocks is the Riverbend United Church.  RUC has a long-term commitment to the local neighbourhood, and that brought them to the table right at the beginning.  The church was quick to open their doors, and became one of the key facilities used by kids and families in the program.  They provide a free room for teaching, which currently hosts a family literacy course.  RUC also began hosting a community meal every year, inviting the broad community including some Syrian families.  BG Rocks families are invited to help do the shopping and cook the meal with the RUC volunteers, and this shared effort makes for a wonderful and special event.  According to the coordinator Sharon Gritter, when she needs volunteers, Riverbend United Church is one of the first groups she approaches.

BG Rocks dinner painting
In the photo above: Volunteers from Riverbend United Church and youth and families from BG ROCKS together paint tiles for the national Canada 150 mosaic; which aims to win a place in the Guiness Book of World Records!

What does success look like?
‘Kids are being mentored!’  Sharon says, ‘When a kid you have been working hard with (and challenging) crosses the finish line at the end of a long race, it is really moving.’  Because of their sports programs they are seeing kids make it onto the local Junior High teams.  They get to do fun things like go camping, and go on field trips.  It strengthens and enriches the lives of the kids and families, and it connects them in a supportive community.   BG ROCKS! is a great example of what a local community can do to ensure all their neighbours have a chance to flourish!

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with BG Rocks director, Sharon Gritter

Martina’s Story

In October of 2016, Martina (once a teen parent needing help) shared her story at a workshop CRIHI hosted in the Riverbend/Terwillegar community. 

“Thank you to [CRIHI] for inviting me to share some of my personal experiences and thoughts related to safe and affordable housing.  I hope I can give voice to the thousands of Edmontonians who seek safe and affordable housing.”

My name is Martina Crory.  I am 23 years old, a mother to my adorable 3-year-old son Jude, a third-year university student at MacEwan, and I was recently accepted into the honours program in political science.

I grew up living with my mom.  She had few marketable skills and as a result we moved from Halifax to Edmonton hoping for more opportunities.  Unfortunately, those hopes never came to be.  We continued to live in poverty with little income and limited housing options.  We moved around a lot and it never really felt like I had a home.  As a young person growing up, it was chaotic and disruptive.  Every time I moved I would have to leave some things behind or things would get lost moving.  It was not a very stable way for a teenager to grow up.

When you don’t have stable housing, your life is not stable.  At nineteen years, old I found myself pregnant; a single parent.  If things were tough, I knew they were going to be tougher.  I reached out to the Terra Centre for teen parents, and for the past three years they have been by my side providing support in so many ways.

My son Jude and I ended up living in a walk up off 107 Ave.  My laundry would get stolen, there was always the smell of pot in the building.  It was noisy, and there was nowhere for kids to play outside.  This is not what I wanted for Jude.  I knew the risks of these environments.  I looked around for a better safe place for us to live, but the rents were beyond my reach.

Although that was a challenge, what seemed even more challenging in finding decent safe and affordable housing were the assumptions and judgements that I faced as a young single parent.  Landlords and the general public did not see me as a young parent with potential and capabilities; they saw me as a reckless, irresponsible and inadequate mom; nothing further than the truth.

It was a difficult time.  I applied for subsidized housing with Capital Region Housing, but with a two-year wait list I felt so defeated.  Terra had just started a new housing partnership with Brentwood Family Housing Society and I was accepted.

When I first went to see what was to be my new home, I was speechless.  It was in a quiet community with other families.  It had playgrounds, and my townhouse had a washer and dryer.  This was like a dream come true for me.  When I moved in, it was the first time I could remember that it felt like it was home.  Because of the subsidy, Brentwood offers, it was affordable, based on my student income.  I started to feel like there was hope.  I started to believe I could pursue my dreams of graduating from University.  For the past two years, I have been living in safe and affordable housing.  Because of that, I have been able to make great gains in reaching my goals.

I am proud of my academic accomplishments, of raising a well-adjusted, happy and healthy child.  I feel like I am part of the community and I am getting ahead.  I am even the proud owner of a ‘mom car.’  I can afford it because of subsidized rent.  It may not look pretty, but if I need to take Jude to the hospital at 2:00am I can do that.  I can drive him to his skating lessons.  I can spend more quality time with him; saving more than two hours a day from riding the bus; time I can spend with him.

Affordable housing gives me security and options.  I don’t have to choose between rent and good food for Jude.  We never owned a home growing up, or had much stable housing.  I think life would have been much different if we had.  I dream of owning my own home one day, and I know pursuing my educational goals will help me to achieve that.  Having affordable housing today is helping me to reach that goal.  I know that subsidized housing will not always be necessary; but I am grateful that I have been able to benefit from it.

As you spend time today listing about affordable housing and the people who need this support, please consider the following:

  1. People who need affordable housing have goals; I don’t think most want to have a subsidy.
  2. We want to give our kids a home and provide them with stability and opportunity.
  3. If you have children, what we want for our children is no different than what you want for your children.
  4. We want to give back, not just take; affordable housing can help make that happen.
  5. We need more people to care about our community; what kind of community are we cultivating for our children and what we can teach our children about inclusion.

Thank you for taking the time for this discussion today and caring about our community.

 

Have You Seen Theo?

A Frontline Hospitality Story

On a cold early spring day in March, my co-worker and I were doing one of our usual routes in the Crisis Diversion van, when I saw a homeless community member who was trudging down the sidewalk with his shopping cart of belongings.   As he bumped his cart across the street, his sleeping bag slipped off unbeknownst to him.  Knowing that he would need it for the cold night ahead – a sleeping bag being a sign that he most likely slept outside rather than harbouring in a shelter for the night – I asked my co-worker to pull around the block so that I could dash out, get the sleeping bag, and return it to its owner.

That was how I met Theo, and had the honour of hearing some of his story.  I was right, he does sleep on the street.  The shelter was not his cup of tea.  Too many people.  A good place to catch a virus as you lay side by side in a large open space with dozens of others.  Too chaotic.  High chance of being roughed up.  At least in the alley where he made his bed he had his own space.  Theo at once struck me as a gentle soul, as he thanked me with kind words for returning his sleeping bag.  He was hungry, and had missed dinner at Hope Mission.  Though it didn’t really matter, as he was only able to keep down soup and other liquids.  He shared with me that he was in the late stages of colon cancer, his thin, frail figure giving away just how progressed the cancer was.

I asked my usual question, “Are you on any lists for housing?”  He had put his name in with Homeward Trust, but that had been a couple years already.  “Let’s look into that,” I suggested. “You can check in with housing at Boyle Street.  I’ll check in as well tomorrow,” as it was Sunday. We looked for him later that night to bring him some soup, but he was not to be found in his usual sleeping spot.

On Monday I stopped in at Boyle Street’s Housing Department and spoke with the manager.  She was very empathetic towards Theo’s situation and managed to change his status in the database to note the urgency in finding him housing.  We agreed that it was only human to be able to die enveloped in care rather than spending your last days on earth in a back alley.  It was what Theo told me he wanted as well.  Sometimes we as workers have ideas of how things should be, without thinking of what the community member actually wants.  The housing manager also put in a phone call to Homeward Trust.  Later that day we stopped in at Bissell Centre, as that was another place Theo frequented, and found that he had a worker there.  So we asked her to keep an eye out for Theo as well.

Within that same week I was contacted by both the manager of Housing at Boyle Street and a Homeward Trust worker with news that they were casting a wide net around Edmonton’s social service organizations to find Theo, and then at last that Theo had been spotted and was in the Housing office.  I don’t know the end of Theo’s story, but I have great hope that because of all the folks asking that question, “Has anyone seen Theo?” he is housed and spending the last of his days warm and cared for, receiving meals as well as meds to control his pain.  I am always grateful when I meet people who care for others as beloved children of the Creator, not as one of many, not as a case to be solved, but as a human being worthy of love and dignity.

Submitted by Heather Tigchelaar, a frontline worker with the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team, under Boyle Street Community Services

 

See Inside: The First Place Housing Program

The rising cost of a starter home, tighter mortgage rules, and a slower growth in personal incomes means that more and more people are having a hard time crossing the threshold into home ownership.

The challenge is particularly pronounced for young people and families in entry level jobs, or those who may be carrying student debt.  For many of these people basement suites, rentals, or a bedroom in their parent’s home may be all they can afford.

One answer to this challenge is led by the City of Edmonton:  The First Place Program
      “Consider how things have changed, even in the last ten years,” says Tim McCargar, who leads the City’s First Place Housing Program. “In 2006, young people entering the housing market could get a 35-year amortization on a mortgage with no down payment.  Recently, there has been greater scrutiny with regard to income verification. Now, the longest available amortization is 25-years, with at least 5% down.  Even with a good income, you can’t qualify without that down payment.”

Conceived by City Council in 2006 in response to rapidly escalating housing prices, First Place was a decision to create greater housing opportunity in Edmonton for young people and families. The goal of the program is to increase the supply of starter homes, and help get people into their first home.  Recognizing that single-family dwellings are becoming out of reach for most first-time buyers, Council directed that administration build townhomes, which is increasingly how young people begin home ownership.

First Place is targeted to help people just outside the market: recent graduates with student debt, young families and young professionals living at home, or in apartments.

How does it work? 
From the beginning, City Council directed City staff to work with the local new home builders and banks to determine how to help people enter the housing market.  Out of that collaboration, a strong program has been developed, and the banks and builders play an ongoing role in its implementation and success.

The City of Edmonton helps by providing the vacant building sites where homes can be built, and requiring builders to engage each community individually in the design of new home.  In 2006, 20 school sites that sat empty for years before being declared surplus by local school boards were selected by City Council to be the building sites where the new homes would be constructed. This too is competitive, as buyers can choose what they like, and where they want to live.

      The two home builders for the First Place program were selected through an open and competitive process.  After design consultations and engagement with the local community and approval of development permits, new home construction starts.

Q: Is the land given, or sold at a discount?

The land is sold to homeowners at current market value, which is determined by professional land appraisers.
Q: Is there continued funding from the city for the program?
There is no tax levy funding associated with development of the First Place townhomes.  The costs of engaging local residents to design the homes and of building the homes is borne by the builder.

        Eligible purchasers pay for the cost of the unit, as well as relevant condominium fees, taxes and utility costs. There is a five-year deferral on the land portion of the mortgage, after which time the owner must pay the City the total amount of the deferred land costs.   This five-year deferral gives the new buyer time to build some equity, gain stability, and increase their monthly income.

Who is eligible to purchase a First Place home?
Local banks supporting the program require that each buyer qualify for the cost of the new home and land.  Interested buyers contact the new home builders directly to learn more about the homes and are advised of the program’s eligibility criteria:

  • Must be able to qualify and obtain pre-approved financing.  (Banks currently require a minimum of 5% down payment, and look for a maximum gross debt service ratio of 32% or total debt service ratio maximum of 42%.)
  • Must be a first-time home buyer in Alberta
  • Must agree to be full time occupants and residents of the home for at least five years
  • Must have a personal net worth less than $25,000, excluding a primary vehicle, lock-in or group RRSP and the down payment saved for the home
  • Must be a Canadian citizen or have permanent resident status
  • Must be employed and have a combined household income of no more than $117,000.  Combine income refers to those holding the mortgage and title to the home
  • Applicants may use a “co-signer” to qualify for and obtain mortgage approval

There is some limited discretion on a site-by-site basis.  One single mom with a divorce behind her did own a home previously.  Program staff considered her situation and were able to waive that one requirement.
There are also a few rules every new homebuyer must follow:

  • All buyers must live in the home they purchase and belong to the condominium association which ensure homes and sites are well maintained.
  • Buyers may not move elsewhere and rent out the home.   After the five-year deferral period, the home buyers have the same rights and responsibilities of ownership as all other owners in the neighbourhood.

What about the surrounding community?
Local communities often have concerns around traffic and parking, and design of the new homes.  When Council approved the program, they built in a requirement that members of the local community be directly involved in designing the new homes.

      The City recruits six to eight residents from the community through an open application process to work with the builder to help design the new homes and ensure they fit well with the surrounding neighbourhood.  The design process usually involves three to four meetings over a two to four-month period, depending on design engagement participants’ schedules.

       At the first meeting, the City and the builder get feedback from the design participants on what they do or don’t want there, and to hear what they might be anxious about, such as height, traffic and sprawl.  During the design process, many initial designs are presented to the participants for review and feedback.  From there, the team works on revising the designs and comes back again for a further round.

In the design process, participants are able to influence:

  1. The number of homes on the site
  2. Orientation: directions they face (inward, outward etc.)
  3. Roofing styles: contemporary designs tend towards variety in the roof line
  4. Homes exterior character and style
  5. Colour schemes that fit in each neighbourhood
  6. Traffic flow in and out of the building site
  7. Parking arrangement: all developments now include drive-under units as part of their plan.

In response to residents’ requests for greater transparency, updates on the status of the design engagement process, including meeting minutes and design options under consideration, are posted online following each design engagement committee meeting for the public to view.

       The local community also tends to have concerns around property upkeep and appearance.  To respond to that, every First Place project is set up with a Condo board.  The board looks after snow removal and lawn maintenance, and helps respond to any concerns arising from within or outside the new development.
       First Place also encourages involvement in the local community.  They do this by providing community league memberships to new buyers as part of the package to encourage local involvement.  As a result, they see these new neighbours getting involved in local community leagues and schools, and helping run community programming.
Success and Failure: Is it working?
Here is one significant and measurable sign of success:  There have been no mortgage failures thus far!
       That doesn’t mean there aren’t situations when things go sideways.  People sometimes need to leave before the five-year deferral had ended.  One story is from a nurse who is a single mom and has a daughter in a two-bedroom townhome.  But then she meets a guy (a cop), and he has two kids of his own.  Now they need a larger family home.  But it could be any number of factors:  A dream job!  A Divorce.  Inheritance!  New babies!
       When these situations arise, staff from the First Place Program are able to meet with them to discuss a few options.  They may be able to sell to another qualified buyer for the balance of a 5-year deferral.  Or they may pay off the deferral.  When these situations arise, the City works with the home owner to determine the best course of action.

       There are also situations where someone breaks the rules and breaches contract.  (Perhaps they move out and rent out the place.)  Fellow First Place homeowners will often see this happen and report it.  In these situations, the First Place staff has some tools with which to respond, including removal from the program and buying back the house.

What does success look like?
One young mom celebrates being able to have a separate bathroom for her teenage daughter.  Home ownership often leads to family and new relationships.  It is surprising how fast the babies come!
Common spaces built into each development help create community with neighbours and other families.
People in the local neighbourhood have to buy more Halloween candy and hand them out to cute kids.  Kids are walking to school, again!

       Parents are often there to co-sign the mortgages, helping their kids find their feet, and often being close enough to share life as a young family begins to bloom.  When parents see their kids become stable and healthy, it is a powerful gift.

They have also seen children from the local neighbourhood able to buy in the neighbourhood they grew up in.

Article by Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Tim McCargar, Director, Civic Properties, City of Edmonton

Visit the First Place website at: https://www.edmonton.ca/programs_services/housing/first-place.aspx


What’s Your Wisdom on Affordable Housing? – Mill Woods!

CRIHI is hosting a workshop on Affordable Housing in Mill Woods on Saturday, April 29 from 1-4pm.  We have invited local community leagues and neighbours, faith communities, and local service providers.

If you call Mill Woods your home, or your faith community is rooted there, or you have friends and neighbours living in this area, please encourage them to participate.  We have much to learn from each other when we take time to listen and share ideas and perspectives.

The Muslim Community will be providing refreshments for the workshop, and we look forward to tasting their hospitality.  We hope for a strong and diverse turnout of people and voices, so we can generate some good community wisdom together!

HELP SPREAD THE WORD!

Housingworkshop flyer

 

Religious and spiritual communities working to end homelessness in Edmonton and area

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