Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS): a seemingly resurfacing non-profit with “a mandate to provide safe and affordable housing to urban and rural First Nation, Inuit and Métis people living off-Reserve in Ontario,” according to their website. By prioritizing those who may access their services, primary applicants include families/persons escaping violence, homeless people, those who lack access to affordable housing, and those currently living with hazardous, unsafe or inadequate facilities. From the outside looking in, it may seem to be a simple premise.
The basis for the company is to ensure that those with a lower income are able to afford proper living situations in both urban and rural settings. All of this comes with a history, however. Posted in their Informational booklet (available as PDF on their website), it is stated that they’ve been working in accordance with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH). Eventually they took on the responsibilities of the old Rural and Native Housing Program (RNH), and became the largest Aboriginal non-profit housing provider in all of Ontario.
What services do they currently provide? As listed on their site, “we provide information and referrals to local shelters, crisis centers, cultural and community centers, financial and credit counselling organizations, and Aboriginal partner organizations. Opportunities related to education (bursaries), job adverts shared specifically with current tenants, and cost saving programs that assist tenants in increasing energy-efficient living, and reducing the costs of utility and other housing related bills.”
However, their programing and assistance comes in different categories. The RNH program who took over from the MMAH is still offered as one of these choice categories: “The Rural and Native Housing Program provides rent geared-to-income housing to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people considered to be in CORE housing need in areas in Ontario with a population of 2500 or less.” As they explain, their services have specific categories.
Following this is their Assisted Homeownership and Home Repair Programs, which assist with down payments and home purchasing, as well as with assisting low- to moderate-income Aboriginal homeowners to repair their current homes so that they adhere to acceptable and livable standards and current regulations.
Next is a program that helps Indigenous Housing Providers as they help fund said non-profits in enhancing their quantity and quality of culturally appropriate, affordable housing for said urban and rural Indigenous peoples in Ontario, excluding the GTA.
The Indigenous Supportive Housing Program (ISHP) acts as a part of the Supportive Housing Investment and is run by the Ministry of Housing. ISHP is administered by Indigenous organizations for Indigenous peoples in need of a home and support services.
Also run by the Ministry of Housing, the Urban Native Housing Program, which, as described by the OAHS site, provides 100% capital funding and a fixed long-term mortgage interest rate for applicants.
But who is it that currently leads the OAHS and oversees all of these Indigenous-based housing services? Sylvia Maracle, from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory (west of Kingston, Ontario). She currently sits as the chair of OAHS’ Board of Directors, and is one of the provost lecture guests coming to Trent to celebrate 50 years of Indigenous Studies on campus.
“As Board Chair, I have had the pleasure of working with OAHS to establish long-range priorities and corporate strategies that reflect the thoughts, feelings, ideas and desires of the corporation, as well as those presented by community members. OAHS utilizes traditional practices to collectively address the expectation of a mission statement devoted to excellence in housing and community development,” she wrote in her reflective piece, as part of the previously mentioned information booklet.
To say the least, the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services is having an impact, both within Ontario generally and in Peterborough’s own community. With two rental homes in Peterborough currently advertised on the OAHS website, the OAHS will not only be open to Indigenous communities around Peterborough, but also to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who will be attending Trent and may be currently facing or will face housing issues in the future.