By Lori Bamber, Managing Editor
The benefits of owning an affordable home are incalculable: the security, comfort and satisfaction that comes from waking up every day in a place that you can call your own are life changing.
But for too many Canadian families, home ownership is a dream that is out of reach. Low-income families often find themselves in sub-standard rental housing in unsafe neighbourhoods, trapped in a cycle of poverty often complicated by health challenges.
Since 1985, Habitat for Humanity Canada has worked to change that. With generous donations of funds and materials, and countless volunteer hours, Habitat supporters have enabled more than 2,500 Canadian families to buy homes. Families are chosen on the basis of housing need, a stable income that allows them to make affordable mortgage payments (defined as 25 per cent to 30 per cent of gross household income), and their ability to contribute 500 hours of “sweat equity” to the construction of the new home.
Ken Nolan suffers from severe emphysema, and his health issues were worsened by his chronic worry about what would happen to his family if he were to die. He and his wife and four children had lived for more than a decade in a rental house that was poorly sealed and riddled with mould, further exacerbating his lung disease. As his condition deteriorated, he was unable to climb the stairs to the second floor to his bedroom, so he slept on the family couch for their last years in the house.
That all changed when the Nolan family was chosen for a Habitat home. “Now, no matter what happens to me, my family will have this place,” says Mr. Nolan.
In addition to providing the family with greater stability and security, their new home has also eased the Nolan’s financial strain. Far more energy-efficient than their former residence, they’ve calculated that they save about $300 a month in utility costs because of the home’s energy efficiency – savings they’re able to put toward food, clothes and activities for their children.
Anh Pham and Binh Nguyen moved into their home more than 19 years ago, moving out of a home that was leaky, mouse-ridden and roach-infested and so poorly insulated that the family had to leave the oven open to get through the Winnipeg winters.
They’ve since paid off their interest-free mortgage, and because of their affordable housing, were able to support their three daughters’ post-secondary educations. “We would still be paying rent without the help of Habitat for Humanity,” says Ms. Pham.
A 2013 survey conducted by Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation found that Habitat families reported that their new neighbourhoods are safer, better for children (80 per cent had children living at home) and more convenient than their previous neighbourhoods.
Many respondents noted the “security, stability and sense of control” that affordable home ownership provides, and reported improvements in their children’s general well-being and performance in school. More than 75 per cent reported improvements in their family’s health, and 89 per cent indicated that their family life had improved.
For Habitat’s many donors, volunteers and staff, that’s a dream worth getting behind.
“The effect of Habitat for Humanity is greater than four walls and a roof,” says Mark Rodgers, the chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity Canada. “Studies continually show that Habitat families experience significant improvement in health and exponential growth in their children’s confidence – all leading to better educational outcomes.
“Habitat is helping future generations realize their dreams and aspirations through home ownership. It’s a sustainable investment for today and the future.”