Offering a ‘hand up, not a handout’
TheStar.com – specialsections/newinhomes35years
Published On Fri Jun 08 2012. Tracy Hanes, Special to the Star
Since Ernie and Gloria Penner of Winkler, Man., received the keys to the first Habitat for Humanity house built in Canada in 1985, the grassroots organization has provided more than 2,000 homes for low-income families across the country.
Believing firmly in providing “a hand up, not a handout,” Habitat requires all families to put in 500 hours of sweat equity, working side-by-side with volunteers to construct their own home, assisting on other builds or helping out in one of Habitat’s 75 Canadian ReStores.
The Habitat for Humanity movement started in 1976 with Millard and Linda Fuller in Americus, Georgia, at Koinonia Farm, a small, interracial, Christian community. Based on the concept of partnership housing, those in need of adequate shelter worked side-by-side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses at no profit. No interest was charged on the loans.
The first Habitat affiliate in Ontario was founded in Waterloo Region in 1987 and the Toronto affiliate has been in existence for 24 years, with almost three dozen affiliates in all across the province. Their mandate is to mobilize volunteers and community partners to build affordable housing and promote homeownership as a means to break the cycle of poverty.
“Habitat is not so much an act of charity, but more of an investment,” says Stewart Hardacre, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada. “The families we are serving currently are dependent on social programs, particularly for housing. On becoming Habitat homeowners, they are taken off those housing programs and that yields a spot for another family. And as homeowners, the Habitat families become taxpayers.”
He says one misconception about Habitat is that it provides social housing.
“Mixed affordability is the best thing for sustainable, healthy housing,” Hardacre says. “The folks we serve are not homeless or on welfare. They have to be out there working. It’s really about lifting them out of a cycle of poverty, and the Habitat families tend to do better for generations to come.”
The families reap benefits far beyond having a safe, decent place to live and an affordable zero-interest mortgage.
“There are studies that show the kids do better in school, family health improves and the adult family members will often get retraining so they can get better jobs,” says Hardacre.
He says in many areas, Habitat projects have become catalysts for neighbourhood renewal and that’s why the organization tries to concentrate its housing in the same areas; inner city Regina is one example where Habitat homes have spurred positive revitalization efforts.
The biggest challenge facing Habitat is access to affordable land.
“While we benefit hugely from volunteer support, it’s less known that we also need funding for what we do and we need cash for acquisition of land,” Hardacre says. “We are competing for land with for-profit developers. We are working with municipalities and other agencies to make use of surplus land they have, but they are often under obligation to sell it at market value.”
He says Habitat will also explore more partnerships, such as those Habitat for Humanity Toronto has established with builders. The Daniels Corp., for example, donated land in Etobicoke for the construction of 10 Habitat homes and provided a shell of a townhouse in Mississauga. In Halton, Mattamy Homes donated a shell of a home to Habitat.
Habitat for Humanity Toronto also has had a community partnership with the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) for nine years. Each year, BILD supports the building of a Habitat home as a title home donor and encourages its members to supply labour, material or cash donations. It also raises funds for Habitat through events such as its annual Race for Humanity and charity barbecue, and Stephen’s Ride for Humanity, a bicycle ride named for late BILD CEO Stephen Dupuis, an ardent Habitat supporter.
“The core of our program is about providing families with affordable home ownership,” says Hardacre. “We’re not stuck on how we do it. We are looking at all kinds of approaches and thinking about how we do it.”
Habitat for Humanity Toronto has come up with an inventive proposal for the City of Toronto. Condo developers can seek council approval to build more units than would be otherwise permitted if they provide cash for community enhancements under Section 37 of the Planning Act. Habitat Toronto suggests allowing developers to sell units to Habitat at a lower cost, with the difference between sales price and market value counting as the developer’s Section 37 contribution. While the city wouldn’t get the cash, it would get units to help achieve its affordable housing goals.
Hardacre says Habitat will also look to governments for more support.
“We are not a big beneficiary of government funding or land donation and we’d like to change that,” says Hardacre. “We do receive some support through the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing program but it’s not consistently available to all affiliates. We believe we’re a very effective agency to help eliminate poverty through sustainable, very cost effective solutions.”
As part of Habitat’s new strategic plan, it will seek some affiliates to merge to form larger regional affiliates, reducing the number from 72 to 69.
“This does not mean we are reducing the areas we serve,” says Hardacre. “It’s a challenging environment for any non-profit with fundraising and operational challenges. Some of the early boundaries no longer exist and we’re looking at regional models to better serve the change in demographics. We will actually be operating in more communities.”
Habitat will also expand its ReStore program, which provides important funding for the organization by selling used or discontinued items that have been donated to Habitat, such as plumbing fixtures, cabinets, windows, etc. The stores are largely staffed by volunteers.
With the success of programs such as Women Build and Youth Build, where volunteers from these specific groups help out with builds, Habitat has launched Aboriginal Build, working with local bands to create affordable housing. Currently, an Aboriginal Build triplex is being built in Whitehorse.
The biggest goal of all, perhaps, is to dramatically increase the number of Habitat homes in Canada.
“Our desire is to double the number of homes we’ve built in our first 25 years (2,000) in the next five years,” says Hardacre. “That’s certainly an aggressive goal but we believe it’s attainable because of the level of support, enthusiasm and knowledge about Habitat. We are better recognized than ever before. We are seeking new partnerships with builders, corporate donors and municipalities and we are much more proactive and aggressive in terms of reaching out to find those new partnerships.”
Options for Homes is a private Toronto-based, non-profit organization started in 1992 that develops affordable housing without government assistance. The concept was the brainchild of founder/president Michael Labbe, an affordable housing advocate.
Options has built eight communities in the GTA, providing new homes for over 1,500 people with its builder partner, Deltera, the company that builds for Tridel. Options secures land and approvals and prepares preliminary plans and keeps marketing costs to a minimum through flyers, a web site and newsletters, word of mouth and information sessions. It doesn’t build model suites or undertake media campaigns.
Options for Homes’ “no frills” approach to development cuts costs by 35 to 40 per cent by eliminating amenities such as swimming pools and recreation centres, expensive sales programs and marketing commissions. It also tends to build on less expensive peripheral lands away from more expensive areas.
Options does defers taking a profit until the homeowner’s unit is resold. That deferred profit accounts for about one-third of the initial cost savings to the purchaser.
Home Ownership Alternatives (HOA), a non-profit financial corporation established by Options, makes home ownership possible for low- and moderate-income families by providing them with second mortgages.
Since its inception, HOA has assisted 2,300 families purchase their first home. It began in 1998 when Options for Homes completed the 95-unit the St. Lawrence Co-operative in the Distillery District and HOA was assigned the task of financing second mortgages for the development.
Since then, HOA has supported 11 developments (2,350-plus units) in the Greater Toronto Area and Kitchener-Waterloo regions. In three recent projects, 75 per cent of homebuyers had annual incomes below $60,000.
In 2007, HOA established the June Callwood Home Ownership Fund with an initial $2.5 million to fund greater assistance to lower income families with children. (Callwood was Options for Homes founder Michael Labbe’s aunt).
HOA’s objectives are to increase new affordable housing starts to 1,000 homes annually and to increase the degree of support provided per home, especially to families requiring larger homes.
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