A critical shortage of adequate housing on native reserves across Canada is likely to worsen, despite $3.8-billion in federal funding spent on the problem over the past decade, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser says.

“Many First Nations are facing a housing crisis,” Fraser said. “Unless action is taken quickly, the already unacceptable housing conditions are only going to get worse, with population growth on reserves that is twice the Canadian average.”

Fraser said it was difficult to assess whether the federal contribution is appropriate because of overlapping bureaucracy in the federal government and in treaty Indian bands that oversees housing on reserves.

“There is a long-standing disagreement among the parties,” she said. “Until this is resolved, sustainable improvements in housing will be difficult to achieve.”

The audit focused on housing programs administered by Indian and Northern Affairs and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In her report, Ms. Fraser said that “Parliament is not receiving a complete picture of the housing situation on reserves” and that more information about housing costs and program performance is needed. Bands say housing is a treaty right for natives on Canada’s 600 reserves, yet many live in poor conditions.

The report estimates that Indian and Northern Affairs and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. spent $3.8-billion over 10 years on reserve housing.

Ms. Fraser also expressed concern that some houses on reserves don’t meet requirements under the national building code, while toxic mould in housing on reserves is a growing health problem that could cost $100-million to fix.

Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Robert Nault said the federal government has been accountable for how the money was spent and is addressing the issue of adequate housing. “Obviously, we subsidize housing [on reserves] to the tune of $137-million a year,” he said.

In 2001, the department estimated reserves had a shortage of 8,500 houses and about 44 per cent of the existing 89,000 houses needed renovation.

“We’ve been saying for years [reserve housing] is a crisis situation and you only need to go to the communities to see that,” said Don Kelly, a spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations. “The real accountability problems are with the department.”