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Habitat builds take aim at affordability issue

The Habitat for Humanity build now underway in Wellesley is a first for the township, an expansion of the not-for-profit group’s efforts to make housing more affordable, one family at a time.

The local build is also part of a nationwide initiative to put 150 families into new homes to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.

While each is a small-scale project, it does help tackle the affordability issue, which worsens with each year. Each project is also an economic boon to the community, with a study into Habitat for Humanity Canada’s social impact calculating that for every $1 invested in Habitat, there are $4 worth of benefits to the community – last year, that amounted to some $48 million.

Anyone watching housing prices knows home ownership is increasingly out of reach. Rising costs also make their way into the rental market, both diminishing supply and driving up the cost of rent in new and existing stock.

A new Habitat survey finds a majority of Canadians feel we’re not paying enough attention to affordable housing needs and solutions given the current climate. Some eight out of 10 Canadians agree that having affordable, stable housing contributes to public health (87 per cent), community safety (90 per cent), economic growth (92 per cent) and children’s education (91 per cent).   

The survey discovered home ownership remains a top achievement for most people: 91 per cent say that owning a home is one of their greatest achievements in life. Among renters, a majority of Canadians (77 per cent) cite owning a home as one of their top goals.

While homeownership has become much more challenging for Canadians, it remains completely out of reach for many low-income families, who are without access to safe, secure and affordable housing. Habitat’s model bridges a gap for people, providing working families on low incomes with the opportunity to purchase their own Habitat home, such as those under construction in Wellesley.

Survey respondents identified high cost as the largest barrier to homeownership (91 per cent), followed closely by difficulties obtaining a mortgage (75 per cent). Most do not expect the situation to get much better: a majority of Canadian respondents (84 per cent) believe housing costs will go up in the next five years.

According to the survey, most Canadians have struggled with housing costs at some point in their lives, and more than 40 per cent currently struggle to pay housing costs. In order to pay those housing costs, many have had to cut back in other important areas such as food (40 per cent), dental care (30 per cent) or education (12 per cent).

Average home prices remain far out of reach of many residents, which doesn’t seem sustainable.

It’s in this environment that Habitat does its thing. Using volunteer labour and donations of money and materials, Habitat constructs homes for qualified families. Often, this is the only route for partner families to gain home ownership. Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable, no-interest loans. The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments go into a revolving fund, which is used to build more houses.

The townships not being known for its abundance of affordable housing, Habitat builds here are welcome additions.

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