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Habitat for Humanity looking at county

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Habitat for Humanity National Capital Region chief executive officer Donna Hicks briefs town councillors on the merits of the non-government organization expanding to Renfrew County.

Habitat for Humanity National Capital Region chief executive officer Donna Hicks briefs town councillors on the merits of the non-government organization expanding to Renfrew County.

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PETAWAWA - 

Habitat for Humanity Canada, devoted to building decent and affordable housing, is hoping to establish a Renfrew County chapter in the near future.

A delegation from Habitat for Humanity National Capital Region recently made a proposal to council updating them on how the non-governmental organization has made a difference in Ottawa and outlying areas. Since 1993, Habitat volunteers have built 40 houses and completed seven retrofits assisting more than 50 families, including 130 children.

"Our vision is that everyone has a safe and decent place to live," Habitat for Humanity National Capital Region chief executive officer Donna Hicks told council this past week. "We are in actual fact the biggest house builder in the world."

Internationally, the group has become more visible thanks to its most high-profile proponent, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Founded in 1976, the NGO has built over 350,000 homes in 93 countries. There are 69 affiliates across Canada.

Habitat homes are 1,000 to 1,200 square feet in size and provide three bedrooms and one bathroom depending on family size. They are highly energy efficient and meet or exceed all building code standards.

"We don't build anything glamourous and we don't set up a family for failure." Hicks explained. "We build simple, decent, affordable homes and then we sell them to low income, hardworking families. We really serve a very narrow band of people who are working but who would never get a conventional mortgage."

In order to qualify for ownership, a selection committee chooses homeowners based on their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their ability to repay the loan. Homeowners are usually expected to put approximately 500 hours of sweat equity into their own or other project homes, although this amount may vary by location, the number of wage-earning adults in each family, and the recipients’ health issues. Hicks noted that in some years the committee will receive 250 families applications for three or four houses that may be available.

The selected family owns their home and pays an interest-free, long-term $250,000 mortgage valued at five per cent. The homeowners are responsible for home repairs, upkeep and must pay all bills associated with the dwelling including water, hydro, gas and telephone.

"They actually own the house and we transfer the ownership to them," said Hicks. "Since it's interest free it doesn't really matter how long it takes for them to pay it off. What is important is that it's within the family's income so they can pay it off when they are not in a worse situation."

Dave Fisher, past-president of the Delfi Group, has been working with Habitat for Humanity as they look to expand into the region. He told council there are a lot of people across the county who could benefit from a helping hand up. While the area has a generous corps of volunteers and donors, he asked whether there was a way that those with philanthropic consciences and goodwill could work more closely with those people in need.

"Housing is a major part of the poverty cycle," said Fisher.

With the county's social housing stock capped at 950, Mayor Bob Sweet acknowledged there is a huge need for this kind of accommodation for families struggling to make ends meet. He added it's expensive just to maintain the current residences let alone expand the number of homes in the county's social housing inventory.

"Our waiting list as far as social housing is concerned is extensive and there never seems to be enough to meet the needs," said Sweet.

To establish themselves in this area, Habitat for Humanity would need to recruit a local core of volunteers before seeking support from local municipalities. It would need to begin fundraising and identify land that could be donated for future housing. Habitat for Humanity National Capital Region is currently negotiating with the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation with the aim of building there in 2013.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

sean.chase@sunmedia.ca


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