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Habitat celebrates 15 years of changing lives

By JT McVeigh, The Enterprise-Bulletin

More than a dozen families in the Georgian Triangle live in homes that they never thought that they would have thanks to 15 years of work by volunteers with Habitat for Humanity South Georgian Bay.

The organization celebrated this and more at their AGM last week, celebrating more so because two more families in Collingwood are now going to have a place to call their own.

Mark Rogers, president and CEO for Habitat for Humanity Canada brought the importance of the volunteer’s efforts home.

“What you are doing at Habitat for Humanity is not about building houses, in fact I would go so far as to say… you are changing the trajectory of the family’s lives, children’s lives, forever,” says Rogers. “And never underestimate what you do as part of a chain of events that helping change lives.”

Created in 1976 in the United States, Habitat has grown to an international non-profit with headquarters in the U.S. Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America all with the single purpose of addressing the challenge of poverty housing.

New chair of Habitat South Georgian Bay Andrew Turnbull agrees.

“Study after study has proved of the improved outcomes for children who are living in a stable, safe and secure home,” says Turnbull. “Unfortunately the need for affordable housing is rising. House prices rising and the shortage of decent affordable rental accommodation are acerbating an already challenging landscape.”

The challenging landscape specifically relates to the ever-increasing cost of housing and specifically for Habitat, the availability of land for construction.

‘We could have built more homes if we had the land available, but it is always a struggle,” says Turnbull.

Applications when a new build is announcing are increasing.

Families selected by Habitat received an interest-free loan, held by the non-profit and must be able to carry the mortgage. Families must also contribute 500 hours of sweat equity to qualify for the homes whether it is working in Habitat’s ReStore or on site of their own build.

Proving there is no challenge too large, as a Canada 150 project, Habitat invited former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn to join with Habitat chapters across the country to set out to build 150 homes to celebrate this year’s sesquicentennial.

The plan was for 50 chapters to build 150 homes, but it has ballooned to 56 chapters building more than 250 homes.

“We just keep calling it the Canada 150 challenge because it sounds sexier,” laughed Rogers.

The issue of lack of availability of affordable housing is not likely to change and for Habitat to remain viable, more creative means of finding both land and a way to control the escalating costs associated with construction will have to be developed.

“Land is just driving the price of everything and it’s becoming more challenging for us to find land, whether it’s in urban centres or smaller communities across the country,” says Rogers. “So the thing that I am looking for is to become more innovative in how we develop our program. For instance we are either going to look at having to become developers and buy large tracks of land ourselves and build over a period of time, or more importantly, redesigning how we build.”

One plan, said Rogers, is that instead of building single family homes, they may look at building up and over the course of 10 years Habitat may be looking at more low and high rises. Condominium-style residences could become a more viable option, particularly in large urban centres where land costs are enormous.

“We are going to have to be a lot more creative, perhaps partnering with local developers because they are buying large parcels of land. What we need to do is see if we can partner with them to see if they could hive off even a small tract of that,” says Rogers.

With the increasing case of affordability across the country, Rogers insists that there has to be a change in how communities consider their whole infrastructure.

“The way things are going it is really driving a wedge between those that have and those that don’t, those that can afford to live in a community and those who can’t,” says Rogers. “And I think that communities really have to think through a strategy and plan for the whole community to serve people of a lower income so that they have a safe, decent affordable housing.”



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