A Culturally-Relevant Perspective on This Issue
Housing accessibility and quality are an important determinant of health. Both poor quality and lack of accessible housing can affect physical and mental health through exposure to toxins, insects, rodents, structural problems, and social living conditions (housing tenure, satisfaction, overcrowding) . Crowded living conditions can also result in health problems, such as increased transmission of infectious diseases, increased risk of injuries, mental health problems, family tension, and violence . Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by poor housing conditions, particularly on-reserve First Nations people and Inuit in the North.
Core housing need is particularly acute for Aboriginal women [3,4]. It has been estimated that the Aboriginal population is ten times more likely than the general population to be homeless . Increased data collection on Aboriginal women’s housing needs is necessary to improve our understanding and address the housing problems apparent among Aboriginal communities.
Housing problems include housing shortages, crowding, lack of plumbing and electricity, poor insulation, mould, and need for repairs . According to the 2006 Census, 26% of First Nations on-reserve and 7% of First Nations off-reserve live in a crowded dwelling (more than one person per room per household) [7, 8]. As well, 44% of households reported mould or mildew in their homes . Crowding and availability of household amenities (running water, electricity, stoves, refrigerators) in First Nations housing seems to be associated with low socioeconomic status and is especially high among large or isolated First Nations communities . On-reserve housing is especially problematic as this housing is often poorly constructed, deteriorates quickly, poorly maintained, and crowded. These housing conditions elevate social and physical stress and give rise to physical and mental health problems [8, 9]
First Nations women report discrimination and are often refused apartments and homes, making decent housing even more difficult to acquire . Also, First Nations On-Reserve women are not protected by provincial family laws and have no recourse to make claims on shared marital property and homes [11-13].
In general, Métis people enjoy better housing conditions compared to First Nations and Inuit people. According to the 2006 Census, 14% of Métis people live in homes in need of major repair compared to 7% in the Non-Aboriginal population. Three percent of the Métis population reported living in a crowded dwelling . Métis living in rural areas are more likely to experience poor housing/crowding: 5% of rural Métis people versus 3% of urban Métis people reporting crowding. Approximately 18% of rural Métis versus 12% of urban Métis people reported living in homes in need of major repair .
Inuit people are most likely to live in a crowded house, with 31% of the population reporting living in a crowded dwelling. Crowding is more prevalent among communities living in Inuit Nunaat, the northern regions of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec and Labrador, with 38% of the people reporting living in a crowded dwelling. Furthermore, 28% of Inuit reported living in a dwelling of need of major repair. In Inuit Nunaat, 31% of Inuit live in home needing major repair [15,17].