FIMUR moves families into new homes via Assisted Homeownership
When Verity Printup was given the keys to her new townhome, she didn’t foresee the positive impact it would have on her physical and mental health.
“Something as simple as having sunlight makes the biggest difference,” says Printup, who rented a basement apartment for seven years before moving to her current residence in July 2013.
For Printup and many others like her looking for safe and affordable housing, the First Nation, Inuit, Métis Urban and Rural (FIMUR) Assisted Homeownership Program – which was launched by Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS) in 2009 – has been instrumental in supporting off-reserve Aboriginal individuals and families with low to moderate income make the move from tenancy to homeownership.
The funding provides down payment and closing cost assistance to Aboriginal people living outside of the Greater Toronto Area, allowing new homeowners to focus on strengthening their families and contributing to their communities.
“While the concept of rentgeared- to-income (RGI) allows for core assistance, program requirements make it extremely difficult to travel through the entire continuum to the ownership level,” says Don McBain, Executive Director of OAHS. “Stable housing means having a solid foundation for children’s education, safe accommodation, and good health, as well as the ability to secure an economic base for future generations.”
Darlene M., who moved into her bungalow in North Bay last fall, is one who feels a strong pride of place with her new home.
“I have a disability from a car accident, so I never thought I’d be able to own my own place,” says Darlene, who resided in a trailer park for five years. “The garden is one of my favourite places – it is nice to be able to plant flowers and sit outside without being three feet away from the next trailer.”
Before connecting with the FIMUR program, Printup lived in older buildings where mold was a major health concern. “My breathing has improved so much, and I also move around a lot more now that I have to navigate three levels,” she says. “These are changes to my quality of life that I never expected.”
The FIMUR Assisted Homeownership Program was extended for three years (2012-15) with funding provided by the Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario program, and this year’s budget has been fully allocated – but there is still a waitlist of over 75 households that are interested in getting into market homeownership, says McBain. “Our goal is to help individuals and families find a home,” he says, “and our data indicates that there is also a positive economic impact, since for every dollar invested into the program, forty-six cents is returned directly to the government through taxes and fees.”
The program also prioritizes those who are escaping violence or currently living in affordable housing. Since 2009, the FIMUR Assisted Homeownership Program has helped nearly 90 people – almost exclusively women and children – leave situations of abuse and begin rebuilding their lives in a safe environment.
“The FIMUR homeownership program has been beneficial to many fleeing domestic violence,” says Elayne Isaacs, tenant liaison at Can-Am Urban Native Homes in Windsor. “This program needs to continue: we have a lot of work to do to keep our women safe.”
Homelessness, couch surfing, and support for those living with a mental illness are also crucial housing issues that need to be addressed, says Isaacs. “The concept of ‘housing first’ is that housing is the foundation,” she says. “Once they have that basic need covered and the necessary support, then they can focus on recovery and getting back to work.”
According to the City of Toronto (2010), the overall population of homeless people in Toronto identifying as Aboriginal is 15 per cent, with only up to two per cent of the city’s population being Aboriginal. They remain disproportionately represented in the total homeless population in Toronto.
“The GTA is one of the most expensive places to rent in Canada, so saving enough money for a down payment can take years, if attainable at all,” says Lorna Lawrence, program officer for the Miziwe Biik Development Corporation’s GTA Aboriginal Housing Program, which delivers the homeownership program within the Greater Toronto Area.
“For some, homeownership means moving their families out of over-crowded homes or undesirable neighbourhoods. For others, it may mean being the first family member to purchase a home. There’s a sense of pride, empowerment, and strength in doing this.”
Another benefit of the homeownership program is that rental housing made available by the new homeowners can now be vacated for individuals and families looking for a place. “My old unit now belongs to someone else who really needs it,” says Printup, who lives and works full-time in Ottawa.
For McBain, who has attempted to deliver a homeownership program since the late 1990s, the FIMUR program has been a great highlight for Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services – it has helped over 1,000 people move into more than 350 homes.
“I never thought that I would have something like this,” says Printup. “It’s a place that I can finally call my own.”