02/11/2012 11:02 EST | Updated 04/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Attawapsikat Housing Crisis: New Homes Headed To Reserve, Worried That Sites Not Ready Yet


ATTAWAPISKAT, Ont. - Two modular homes are on their way to the remote northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat, but federal officials say the housing project already faces major setbacks.

Ottawa promised to send 22 modular units to the James Bay community after it declared a state of emergency last fall in the midst of a severe housing crisis.

But the shipment had to wait until the winter road between the First Nation and Moosonee, Ont., was frozen solid.

The first set hit the road this weekend, but Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said he's worried warm weather could shut down the road and prevent the delivery of some of the remaining homes.

In a statement Saturday, the minister also raised concerns that the sites earmarked for the homes haven't yet been prepared.

"I have communicated directly with the chief and council to express my concern with the state of readiness of the serviced lots to receive and immediately hook up all modular homes that have been purchased," he said.

New Democrat Charlie Angus, who represents the area, is blaming the lack of progress on a third-party manager appointed by Ottawa to manage the band's finances.

Funds to pay for the work haven't been made available, even though building crews are on hand and ready to work, he said Saturday.

The band has been told to get the sites ready and send the bill to the third-party manager in Winnipeg, but "it's very hard to do site prep if there's no cash flow," Angus said.

"The community can't hire anybody," he said.

"We have a very narrow window of opportunity to get supplies," he said. Once the winter road closes, "we lose an entire year," he said.

The First Nation community issued a cry for emergency help in November over a housing crisis that kept families in rundown shacks or tents as winter loomed.

Duncan appointed the financial manager in response to the crisis, a move that inflamed the community and First Nations across the country.

The band sought a temporary injunction, arguing the imposition of the outside manager threatened irreparable harm by using up funds better spent on housing and other needs.

But a Federal Court judge refused to issue the injunction earlier this month.

___By Paola Loriggio in Toronto