By Richard Lawrence
Everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity (HfH) and at some level is aware of the good works they do in trying to provide home ownership for people by building homes through the use of volunteer labour, donated materials, their ReStore outlet, and financial donations. But one aspect that is not well known is that Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members, both active and retired, participate in helping to build these homes and so much so that Habitat for Humanity acknowledges it with an annual Veteran Build Day (VBD). Today was the second annual Veteran Build Day in Ottawa with over a dozen active and retired CAF members participating at the Jean D’Arc Blvd., Orleans, location with the Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa (HfH-GO) organization. This site has four completed units with families already in them, four currently being built, and another eight on the drawing board when the current four are finished.
Now, one may ask how does one get a home from HfH? It’s not free and it’s not social housing so what is it? As Alexis Ashworth, CEO of HfH-GO, stated, “ [It’s a] bridge between social housing and market housing …”, where HfH helps people get that extra little step to home ownership. As explained by Gavin Liddy, a Director on the Board of HfH and also a CAF veteran in the artillery for 21 years, there is a specific audience that HfH is looking for to qualify for these homes which are people who have jobs, pay rent, and are financially making ends meet, but can’t get ahead enough to put together a down payment for a home or may not qualify for a conventional mortgage because the interest payments put it out of reach. Essentially they are looking for people with a solid financial foundation but still not able to get ahead.
As explained by Liddy, the HfH acts as a developer and builds the new home. They then take a qualifying family and provide an interest free mortgage where HfH becomes the mortgage holder and the family pays the mortgage. Every cent of the mortgage payment goes to the principle of the interest free loan which, without the extra cost of interest, makes the home affordable and builds equity quickly. The homes are sold at market value with the title going to the families as soon as they move in and the money that is paid back to HfH goes 100% back into the pot for the next build. As with any mortgage, once it’s paid off, the family owns the home outright.
Liddy also noted that it’s not just about owning a home. He said, “… [it’s] great for families as often they’re paying rent in areas that aren’t as nice to live in. It helps them develop a sense of community and become part of the community, it’s generally a safer environment for their kids, so it’s more than just an interest free mortgage, it’s also about making a transition to generally a better neighbourhood.”
To highlight the participation of veterans and CAF members in providing this housing was the purpose of today’s event. Several local politicians dropped by to offer thanks, including Orleans MP Andrew Leslie, who actually picked up some tools and helped out but had to leave before the photo-ops (I believe a vote was called in Parliament).
Newly elected city councillor and veteran Matthew Luloff stopped by to offer his support and congratulations noting that, “A lot of people think that Remembrance Day is the only time of year where we celebrate our veterans but our veterans are in our communities every single day making life better for people either through their service in the military or through this kind of volunteer work … I know that a lot of veterans, after their service, look for ways to serve their community.”.
Ottawa Mayor, Jim Watson, also toured the site and was here a year ago when the first four units opened. “One of the great things about HfH is that it really is a group of strangers that come together and in many instances they become friends … and come back year after year for different builds and they look forward to it.”, stated Watson.
Also noting the military participation was Darcy Elder, Director of Development for Wounded Warriors Canada, looking at a partnership with HfH-GO with the ultimate goal to “… hopefully identify a veteran family in that need and do a build for a veteran family”. This does not mean to actually fund the build but Wounded Warriors has many national/regional partners who could assist along with the HfH broad networks of resources. Wounded Warriors Canada is about delivering mental health programs for veterans, first responders, and their families across Canada as a national charity.
One would think that the waiting list for Habitat for Humanity built housing would be long but this is not the case, according HfH-GO CEO Alexis Ashworth. She feels that the program is not well known and that they may be targeting the wrong audience. They really want to target people who can pay rent with a solid financial foundation but still can’t see to accumulate a down payment or the interest puts the load out of reach. They are currently investigation new ways to make themselves visible to people they can help.