"Let’s look at the building technology," says Holmes, whose ideal First Nations home would be about 1,100 square feet and built with wood and other materials that won’t burn or be susceptible to mould.
"I don’t care if you want a box. I don’t care if you want it off the ground. I don’t care if you want a foundation. It’s using all the products that make sense, nothing but mould-free, nothing but zero VOCs [volatile organic compounds]. This is not hard."
Holmes, who is also an adviser on a 90-unit affordable housing project for seniors in Edmonton that is a partnership involving the city and the MÃ©tis Capital Housing Corporation, has no patience for any argument that his ideas will cost too much.
Sure, mould-free drywall might cost 50 cents or $1 more per sheet than standard drywall, Holmes concedes, but will pay off in the long term, especially considering the number of homes on First Nations reserves that need renovation only a few years after being built. More than 40 per cent of the existing homes on reserves need major repairs, compared with seven per cent off reserve, according to a government-commissioned assessment of First Nations housing.
"Look at the cost of taking it down and doing it again," Holmes said. "There’s no comparison."
For Holmes, helping First Nations improve their housing stock extends far beyond choosing the right wood and drywall or hammering nails.
"The smartest thing we can do is to teach the First Nations how to do it," says Holmes. "When they do it themselves, they have pride, and they care, and that’s what I think is the missing link, not to mention just using the wrong products and building foolishly."