Not-for-Profit Social Housing providers like Metis Urban/Capital Housing play a crucial part in the work of providing home and help to populations in extreme poverty.
Description and brief history
Metis Urban Housing Corporation (MUHC) was formed thirty-five years ago to manage a subsidized housing program targeted to aid low-moderate income aboriginal families. Individuals and families were able to afford a home, paying 25% of their rent geared to income (RGI).
Ten years ago, as housing stock aged, and government subsidies began to fall away, a sister company, Metis Capital Housing Corporation (MCHC) was formed in order to renovate, build and manage affordable Units.
Today, between the two sides of the organization, MUHC/MCHC is the largest Aboriginal Housing operation in Canada; owned by the Metis Nation of Alberta. They have 14 locations in Alberta, both Urban and Rural, ranging from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie.
Here’s what MUHC/MCHC is able to charge for a three-bedroom unit: their most common housing stock:
MUHC/MCHC does have a few apartment complexes, but the vast majority (90%) are single dwellings; houses all across the province. Some are bungalows and 4-plexes. Their units are spread throughout the city, which reduces the likelihood of a home becoming a target for negative activity.
As MUHC is not a charity, their operational dollars come in part from the Province of Alberta (80%) and in what they receive from Rent (20%). As they do not receive any dollars for infrastructure, or renovation, they have to squeeze those dollars out while trying to keep rents low. This can be difficult.
Not your average landlord
Many of MUHC/MCHC’s tenants can often face significant barriers and require some kind of supports. Marilyn Gladue, Director of Housing for Edmonton and Rural North says, “We are not funded to do that, but we have to.” She says, “many tenants are from reserves or settlements, so are not familiar with renter responsibilities such as neighbouring, mowing lawns, being good tenants. We can’t take it for granted that people know the basics.” And many come in to large centres like Edmonton to access medical needs or pursue educational opportunities.
MUHC/MCHC works hard with tenants, doing far more than the average landlord; assisting families with budgeting, or repayment plans if they get behind on their rent. They try to be somewhat patient and flexible as they want people to succeed. They also do lots of workshops.
Housing is meant to be short term as people move up the spectrum to greater stability or even home ownership. But that road is longer for some than others, and not everyone is able to move forward in the same way.
Successes and failures:
MUHC/MCHC has seen some very good results with people turning lives around; responding to their efforts to work with them. They have been able to help some move up the ladder from Subsidized housing to affordable, and then even into Home Ownership. They have a great relationship with Habitat for Humanity and have seen many of their families move forward and succeed in their program.
One success story involves a single mom with three kids. Her husband left her, and she was really struggling to provide for her family. She was able to rent with MUHC, and with their support, she fought her way out of debt, managed to feed and clothe her children, and is now back in school. She’s moving forward!
Another family was raising four children. When the husband got a plumbing ticket and a job upgrade the family no longer qualified for subsidized housing. MCHC was able to transfer them to affordable units, and from there they were able to make the leap into home ownership.
But not everyone succeeds. The way can be a steep uphill climb for many. Families can face lots of pressures, including economic, addictions, peer pressure and lifestyle choices. People can’t be forced to make changes, and it all has to be voluntary. Some are not willing or able to accept the helps offered.
Marilyn observes that the Truth and Reconciliation process is important and crucial to help people heal and confront negative pressures, and to move forward with positive choices.
Long Wait Lists
Like other providers of Affordable Housing, MUCH/MCHC has a very long waiting list. They have 1800-2000 famlilies on their wait list at any given time. (that calculates to between 8000 and 10,000 people.)
While they wait, people struggle to get by, paying far more rent than they can afford (up to 60%), doing whatever they have to in order to survive. And there are many problems that come from being under-housed. Affording transportation to your job is hard. Some families are staying in motels.
In today’s housing market, there are some rental spaces available, but not nearly enough that are supportive. As well, landlords will generally choose a person with a stronger income and rent history over someone who is low-income. And unfortunately, not everyone is willing to rent to aboriginal families that are struggling.
Often people with no other choices will sometimes end up in slum landlord situations where properties are not well-maintained by the landlord. This has a very negative impact on the family, including souring relations with local neighbors.
Because of the financial realities of contemporary property development, MUHC/MCHC is forced to move beyond single dwellings to building townhouses or small apartments. Currently, they are building four or eight-plex townhouses in order to keep costs affordable and sustainable.
There are some serious concerns on the radar as subsidy agreements are expiring and not being renewed. This has resulted in approximately 40% of units lost nationwide. Today, 160,000 families are being subsidized across Canada. By 2032 (15 years), all these subsidies will disappear.
But MUHC/MCHC sees reason for hope. The Federal Government today is the first in almost forty years to work on a National Housing Strategy. They are looking at different models as the current model is considered unsustainable. Some of the ideas being considered are:
- Tying funding to families rather than units.
- Recognizing the need to renovate current inventory and add/build new.
- Amending some of the National Housing occupancy guidelines so they are able to respond to the need in a more flexible way.
By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with MUHC Executive Director, Larry Scarbeau and Director of Housing, Marilyn Gladue.