The attached program has been successfully implemented in our community and may be of some interest to The Nation’s readers. For the past three years, our local housing program has begun a “Zero Balance Club. ”

By Chief George Wapachee

The payment of monthly rent, as we all know, has not had a positive record in all the Cree communities and Nemascau was no exception. It is also a fact that our people are very “bingo-oriented.” There is a tendency to only pay if we receive something in return (notwithstanding low-income housing). Therefore, the idea of starting a club to motivate people to pay their monthly rent was started and to take advantage of this growing trend.

Presently, we have 97 household units in the community and out of this, we have 42 household units in the club. It is known as the “Zero Balance Club 42.” This basically means that almost half of our housing tenants are paid up to date on their monthly rent— their balance is zero.

Three years ago, we started out with only 21 club members.

Although there is still some rental arrears in our community, the overall picture has been quite positive and the people have reacted favourably to this approach.

The main objectives of the Zero Balance Club are:

1. To create a positive rental payment history in Nemiscau.

2. To assist individual tenants to assert their personal responsibility in respect to the community rental housing program.

3. To continue to provide reasonable family housing units for the growing families of Nemiscau.

4. To develop alternative housing for special needs groups and individuals in the community of Nemiscau.

5. To create residential developments which reflect the values and vision of the people of Nemiscau.

The way it works is very simple. When you become a member of the club, meaning your rent is paid to date, then you become eligible to the drawing of prizes every three months (coincidentally timed with the quarterly distribution of the Income Security Program cheques). The prizes are provided by the Council of the Nemiscau First Nation and could be anything like: one month free rent, cash (less than the monthly rent), one drum of gas with oil, groceries, hunting equipment, so many meals at the local restaurant, etc.

The prizes are provided in a manner that benefits the community as a whole, i.e., the Council pays to the local restaurant on behalf of the community. There are three winners every three months and at the end of the year, in December, we have three grand prize winners. But, in order to be eligible for the grand prize, you would have to have a perfect rental record in the preceding year.

Everyone has a chance to be a winner in the club, as at odd intervals, the draws are done only amongst those who have not won anything yet. Then, at Christmas time, we have our annual “turkey giveaway” to all club members, on earnings from our local Development Corporation.

We also have a plaque at the Band Office, in public display, honouring and acknowledging all the club members, with their names, every three months. The plaque has received a lot of attention as it also is a photographic display of the community and its growth these past years.

As people come to look for their pictures, they also see that they and others are being honoured for their responsible rental payments.

We have found that this program has enhanced local pride and even allowed us to consider housing beautification programs like gardens and local landscaping projects.

This information is provided to you in response to requests and also to encourage others to think creatively for all our futures.