Group is looking to raise $1.7 million for housing project at the corner of Church Street and Memorial Avenue.
Churches and businesses have stepped up to donate $400,000 for MennoHomes’ affordable housing project in Elmira since they launched their capital campaign last fall.
“So we’re pretty pleased with that,” said executive director Dan Driedger. “There’s a lot of good causes out there that are demanding people’s attention. The issue of housing in general is one that’s being highlighted by the fact that there’s not enough housing generally. So although this project won’t be for Syrian refugee families, it is certainly raising the issue of housing to peoples’ minds.”
Now the push is on to raise the additional $1.3 million needed to meet their $1.7 million target. With all the attention on Syrian refugees lately, he says some people have been telling them that’s where their donations have been drawn to.
“The message we certainly would have is ours isn’t a one-year crisis issue that needs to be addressed. It’s going to be in the community for many years and we’re certainly open to people making multi-year pledges or commitments even if they can’t start this year,” Driedger said.
They’ve received strong support from a variety of local churches. The first one that came forward was Woodside Bible Fellowship. They have three areas annually that they focus on for what they call special year-end giving where they encourage their members to give above and beyond at the year’s end. One is typically an international project, one is something within the church and one is within the community.
They selected MennoHomes as their local project to give to. Their original goal was $20,000, but they ended up raising more than $36,000.
“We were thrilled with that,” Driedger said.
Floradale Mennonite Church decided last weekend to make a $50,000 donation to MennoHomes for this project from their generosity fund.
Leon Kehl of Floradale Mennonite Church says the fund was set up after long-time church member, Homer Schwindt, passed away in 2013, leaving behind a large sum to the church. He was named Elmira Citizen of the Year in 1985.
“We wrestled with what should we do with that and how should we make good use of that and what was the spirit of Homer. Rather than using it for ourselves, the intent is to help locally and globally. I think we have about $300,000 that’s come in through various sources. So we’ve been looking for ways to make a difference,” Kehl said.
They gave $60,000 to help MCC with refugee support last year, which they’re hoping will help about 20 groups, including some Syrian refugees. The decision to donate to MennoHomes was relatively easy. A number of church members expressed how important they think the project is. So much so, that when a certain dollar amount was suggested to donate, the congregation requested it be upped to $50,000, which it was.
“Providing safe affordable housing like that is really critical. It’s something we’ve supported in the past, continue to support so when this project came up in our area it just seemed like the right thing to do. I think for us part of what we’ve done with this and the other one is just to highlight projects like this and to encourage our community to live generously as well,” Kehl said.
Other churches have shown their support, Driedger adds.
Elmira Mennonite Church has hosted a bike-a-thon every year for the last number of years, which they’ll be doing again this year. Wallenstein Bible Chapel and Zion Mennonite have both indicated they want to do some fundraising events for them, but the details haven’t been worked out yet.
“I think generally it’s fair to say the church community in Elmira certainly recognizes the need for affordable housing. They see people in need all the time and through their network of people who attend church certainly have a real sense of where the gaps are within Elmira,” Driedger said.
They’ve also received strong support from local businesses and business owners who’d had success and are looking to give back to the community.
“There’s a number that we haven’t been able to connect with yet, so we have a small group of volunteers who have been helping us knock on doors. It’s a long process. We would certainly want to encourage businesses that just because we haven’t knocked on the door yet doesn’t mean we don’t want their support or need their support,” Driedger said.
He’s optimistic they’ll reach their $1.7 million goal. They need to raise such a high amount because the building has to be sustainable in order to keep rent prices affordable. They’re going out to tender now and he’s curious to see when the quotes come back if there are any savings.
Construction on the 25-unit building located on the same land as Woolwich Community Services will begin this April with occupancy for April of 2017.
“At this point we’re asking people to contact us if they want us to contact them when we’re ready to start accepting applications. I’ve got 280 names of individuals that want to be contacted when we’re ready to start the application process. It’s pretty significant. We’re not going to meet the demand, that’s for sure,” Driedger said.
The applicants will be assessed on a needs basis and not based on if they submitted their application first, in order to remain equitable.
With still a long way to go, Driedger says MennoHomes is humbled by the community response thus far.
“Elmira is just such a generous community and I know there’s a lot of needs out there. To have people step up and contact us out of the blue and say I’ve heard about the project, I want to write a cheque for it, that’s incredible. That lifts your spirits and lets you know you’re doing something that people understand, they get it, they recognize the need. It really makes your day to know you’re on the right track.”