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Causal Effect | How to Solve Housing Supply and Labour Shortages

Job opportunities abound across Northern Ontario’s vast landscape, painting a canvas of expansive economic growth. But the potential prosperity comes with a two-fold challenge as Indigenous communities continue to tackle an insufficient housing supply and widespread member displacement. With the low housing supply compounding a workforce shortage, Northern Ontario has long struggled to meet the labour market’s demands. In our previous post highlighting One Bowl’s mission to redefine affordable housing and foster healthy communities, we touched on the housing crisis faced by the region’s First Nations communities. Today, we’ll explore the solutions and opportunities for innovative system-level solutions that contextualize and embrace the realities within the Northern Ontario landscape with a scalable and streamlined housing supply chain.

Chicken in a Constructions Hat and a House as an Egg in a Nest depicting the Causal effect of labour and housing shortages
Indigenous Youth-Out Migration Fuelled By Lack Of Housing

As Northern Ontario’s major cities remain below their pre-pandemic employment levels (FAO, 2023), the wealth of job opportunities presents a paradoxical scenario—despite jobs aplenty, ongoing out-migration, especially in First Nations communities (CTV, 2017), means there’s a scarcity of people to fill these roles.

Between the second quarters of 2022 and 2023, employment increased in every region of the province except Northern Ontario, which saw a decline of 1.6 per cent (Service Ontario, 2023). Meanwhile, a 2021 Northern College study found 11 Ontario districts lost at least two per cent of their working-age population from 2011-16 with seven of them located in the northern region.

The mismatch between Northern Ontario’s tight labour market and dwindling working demographic has been exacerbated by an inadequate housing supply, hindering the region’s ability to attract and retain a skilled workforce.

Nation Building Through Collaboration and Innovation

Herein lies an opportunity for progressive, long-term solutions that embrace Indigenous culture, health and stewardship.

One Bowl, an Indigenous-owned not-for-profit social enterprise working under the parent organization Wahkohtowin, has since 2022 worked to redefine Indigenous Housing through a circular economy. Using Thermolog technology developed by Boréal Products in Alma, Qué., the result is a first-of-its-kind high-quality modular design offering beautiful, equitable and culturally appropriate homes focused on accessibility, authenticity and efficiency.

A completed thermolog home build

The innovative approach goes beyond simply building houses; in an effort to stem decades of economic leakage within First Nations, it promotes local education, training and employment initiatives to develop a community-based labour force through a transfer of knowledge, increasing the capacity of communities to meet their housing demands.

Designed for life in Canada, Boréal’s Thermolog technology allows for efficient, high-quality modular builds requiring only eight workers and 12 days to raise an 1,800-square-foot home. The resulting homes stand as a symbol of culturally appropriate equity as One Bowl looks to preserve and build value within a housing supply chain with First Nations.

Sustainable Indigenous Workforce Development

Echoing the timeless wisdom of the proverb touting the benefits of teaching a person to fish rather than simply giving them a fish, One Bowl empowers First Nations with the knowledge and skills to build their own housing without the need for external skilled trades. The transfer of knowledge serves as a cornerstone of One Bowl’s strategy. By teaching communities how to build their own homes, we are fostering self-sufficiency and independence. At the heart of the initiative is our firm belief in increasing communities’ capacity by providing the tools and knowledge to construct homes—not only addressing the housing crisis but also creating a ripple effect of empowerment and economic growth.

Workers installing Thermologs for a Boreal Home

The Career Path Home

To help One Bowl reach its goals, Wahkohtowins focus turns to a project to rehome displaced members of far-flung First Nations communities through a workforce development initiative. Dubbed a career path home, it aims to reverse a trend seeing 80 per cent of First Nations members displaced from their traditional territories for a lack of careers, jobs, housing and other opportunities. Leveraging other programs and initiatives developed through the Wahkohtowin network and Indigenous Innovation Centre, One Bowl will bridge the housing gap in connecting stakeholders with their lands, communities and cultures.

Overarchingly, the goal is to meaningfully solve the region’s workforce and displacement challenges in a way that trumps mere recruitment efforts. It’s not only about building homes but building communities and Nations.

Stay tuned for updates on our first Northern Ontario open house event, where you can tour Thermolog homes for a better understanding of our work and the many ways you can get involved.


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