Feds sign deal promising millions to Ontario First Nation facing housing crisis

The federal government has finalized a deal that will deliver millions of dollars to a remote Indigenous community in northern Ontario to help tackle a housing crisis that is affecting the health of residents.

Ottawa says the agreement signed Thursday represents an investment of up to $12.8 million in Cat Lake First Nation — more than the roughly $10 million promised in an interim deal reached last month.

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In a statement, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan says the government will provide $5 million to build 15 new housing units in Cat Lake and $2.1 million to repair and renovate 21 houses.

The federal government will also put up another $3.1 million for 10 new portable homes and $200,000 for a new temporary warehouse.

Another $2.4 million has been earmarked for "associated costs," such as site surveying and inspections, transporting materials on the winter ice road and hiring various managers to oversee the project and the maintenance of units.

The Cat Lake band declared an emergency in January, saying terrible housing conditions in the community had led to severe lung and skin ailments, especially affecting about 100 children.

The fly-in Ojibway community of about 450 people is about 180 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout, Ont.

O'Regan said Thursday the signing of the final deal — which was done by videoconference because bad weather prevented him from flying out from Thunder Bay, Ont. — represents "an important step."

The minister said he and Cat Lake Chief Matthew Keewaykapow discussed ongoing challenges such as the impact of weather on the winter ice road that leads to the community.

"This is a primary and urgent concern. The chief and I agreed to stay in close contact to ensure that materials, construction supplies, and modular units, especially those that already mobilized for delivery from Pickle Lake, will be transported to the community as soon as the winter road is able to support the weight of those loads," he said in a statement.

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