The eviction of a family is a heart-breaking event in a First Nation community. It is precisely during these events that we witness the full extent of family ties merging with political dynamic. Councils have been overturned, friendships have been damaged and Housing Directors have been fired or been victims of physical violence. To such an extent, some law enforcement officers may refuse to perform the actual eviction. Social norms simply shuns anyone who wishes to pursue this option because a house we call home is often a rare commodity in a Community.
Yet, when designing First Nation Housing Policies or By-laws, there is always a reference to eviction rules and procedures included in the document. It is designed to offset the high rate of rental default and act as a deterrent to those who break the rule. And truth be told, they have been by large and wide ineffective to counter a deeply enrooted behaviour. Eviction procedures are not applied, do not deter or nor frighten tenants. This is a problem that we call the gap between theory and practice. And yet, despite the proven lack of performance of this policy tool, it has been time and again advocated as our problem solver by industry professionals.
Pending on community dynamics, I do not always recommend including eviction as a policy tool. If I am of the opinion that a community has a greater probability of not evicting in spite of numerous rental defaults offences, I would advise against including this option. Proposing a solution that is set to fail only has detrimental impact on the legitimacy of an organization and ultimately render this solution less viable.
If the basic remedy of contract law is not an option, then what is? What can we do? For many First Nations legislators and industrial professionals, the “eviction section” of an housing policy is a catch 22 : We are damned if we include it, and we are damned if we don’t.
However, solutions arise with from policy research and experience. For instance, planning can represent a coherent answer. When eviction is not an immediate option, it may represent an option for later. In other words, a good policy-making process should try to align itself with the belief system already in place, a its potential of change.
Refusing to apply or abide by a set rules is often a symptom of a social norm. The appearance that elected officials are in a position of weakness due to political process, treaty rights or age-old promises, and an organization legitimacy all affect an organization’s capability to use this option.
If this is the case, Policy Makers must then focus their attention on solutions that will counteract these well anchored social norms so to build the social acceptance of this practice. As such, a well-balanced solution should look like a strategy to build the social acceptance of this option, build the political will of the current and next generation of elected officials and the organization's legitimacy. And pending if a First Nation is in a rural setting, in which evicting is basically banning the family from the territory, organization must offer a last chance housing solutions to accommodate them.
Policy-makers often have included eviction as a stipulation under an umbrella housing policy. It may be time to review this way of doing thing and build a standalone eviction policy that focuses less on the actual evicting, and more on making it human, acceptable, and in-line with the belief system of the community. Well-advised today policy-making often provide strong foundations for success in the future.
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