Northern Housing Summit aiming to find solutions to housing needs
Tim Brody - Editor
Sioux Lookout is preparing to host delegates from across Northwestern Ontario to look for solutions to continuing and growing housing needs across the region with a focus on this community.
The Northern Housing Summit (NHS) is expected to bring stakeholders and interest groups from a variety of sectors together in Sioux Lookout June 26 – 28.
Municipal Economic Development Manager Vicki Blanchard shared, “The Municipality of Sioux Lookout has conducted several research projects around housing. For the last 30 years, housing has always been top of mind… In 2016 we conducted a housing survey and during the housing survey, we looked at some of the detail and the data, and we’ve been listening to the public and listening to our own employees that we’re hiring about the cost of rental properties or no rental properties available. This has become a real issue.”
Blanchard said that according to another study conducted by the Municipality, 30 per cent of jobs being posted in Northwestern Ontario, including Thunder Bay, are being posted in Sioux Lookout. Conversely, the study found that 3.5 per cent of listed homes in the same area are in Sioux Lookout.
Blanchard shared, “The mayor, who has been participating at tables around student housing for First Nations, around Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority and their needs for employees and residents; we’ve been working closely with Windigo (First Nations Council) for student housing and so we start finally pulling all this together, and we were saying we have had a problem for a very long time but we’re at a crisis peak because if we don’t address it, if we just let it be a problem, where are these people or organizations going to go if they can’t employ or house the people they need to do the job?
She continued, “So what we’ve done is I said, talking with the mayor and the CAO, let’s not throw thousands of dollars at a study again. Why don’t we ask the region, ask Northern Ontario if they can help Sioux Lookout?”
The summit will look at the need for all forms of housing in the community.
“We know what the problem is. We know the local issues. We know the situation. What we need is help and all three levels of government, all agencies across the board,” Blanchard explained.
Blanchard said many factors make Sioux Lookout the perfect case study for this summit.
Information on the summit’s website, http://www.northernhousingsummit.ca/, explains, “Over several decades and for many reasons Sioux Lookout has grown as a hub for a northern region encompassing approximately 30 First Nations. People have migrated from the north to Sioux Lookout for services such as health care, education, training, social services, recreation, commerce, housing, and more. People have also migrated to Sioux Lookout from both the north and the south for jobs related to providing those services. Yet in Sioux Lookout, like much of Northwestern Ontario, available housing has not grown along with population growth.”
The website further shares, “Sioux Lookout is home to two high schools and annually hosts approximately 400 students from NAN (Nishnawbe Aski Nation) communities. Sioux Lookout has become a preferred destination for northern families with students leaving home for education. The demand for student spaces and accommodation continues to grow in Sioux Lookout. In 2018, the new $30 million state-of-the-art Sioux North High School will open, to replace Queen Elizabeth District High School. Activity is surging in other sectors as well and is pushing the demand for housing. In response to recent developments with Wataynikaneyap Power, the Ring of Fire, and all-weather access roads, training for workers in those sectors is required. Training agencies such as the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board and the Lac Seul Training Centre will respond with programs. The constraining factor will be available housing for trainees. Investments and advocacy by NAN and other First Nation agencies are being made to improve health and health care delivery to Ontario’s far northern region. A significant part of that health care delivery to the far north is channeled through Sioux Lookout and similar communities. As employment in the health sector increases so too does the demand for housing.”
Blanchard added, “We have over 135 professional jobs (in Sioux Lookout), of those, only 25 are in the service industry. So that tells you these are all opportunities for young professionals to come to our community and if we can keep even a small percentage, it’s new blood and growth for the community.
“With the looming development in the north and 7000 jobs pending, Sioux Lookout is going to either boom or collapse and we want to be prepared. Our official plan is planning for residential space… we’re really taking this seriously.”
“It’s about people getting into these rooms, sharing their expertise with respect to employment, housing, contracting, partnership development or government funding,” Blanchard said. “What we’re trying to do, we have a facilitator in each room with a scribe, and at the end, on the last day, we will present those results to the public and to the participants and a report will then be sent to all levels of government, including our council, with recommendations, opportunities, established partnerships and probably projects.”
Blanchard added, “Because we have taken this approach, I have already been working with Henry Wall (Kenora District Services Board CAO) and contractors from aboard that have been looking at Sioux Lookout, not quite sure if they want to take that next step… We had some very, very important meetings that are resulting in probably some large capital outcomes and addressing our issues both market rental and student housing, so it’s already starting to work, partnerships are already taking place. I think you’re going to see some announcements around that during this event.”
Commenting on registration cost for the event, as high as $750, Blanchard said, “We’re not trying to ward off local people from participating because of the cost, what we’re doing is instead of spending more tax dollars and just spinning our wheels, we’re asking for help. We’re asking for solution based results.”
She added, “We’ve done enough grassroots investigation. We know we have some serious issues. We know. We have to convince the funders, and the rest of the region, the same.”
The planned outcome of the Northern Housing Summit, according to the summit’s vision statement, “Is that through the identification of sector housing needs and locations that partnerships and strategies can be developed to meet the regional need for housing.”
Blanchard said she is hoping to have a final report from the summit ready this fall.