On the grounds of the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church sits the old parsonage. In its heyday, the modest home was a place of respite for the congregation’s pastor and family, but for decades now the building has stood largely unused. Seeing little benefit for the property themselves, the church has teamed up with the non-profit MennoHomes to find a new use for it: as affordable housing for a newly immigrated Syrian family living in the region.
“At the end of the day we’re kind of freshening and revitalizing a house that had been sitting vacant in order to turn it into affordable housing, and that’s kind of what we’re all about,” explained Dan Driedger, executive director of MennoHomes, about the project.
Work began to prepare the home on September 16 and the hope is that, with continued volunteer support from the community, it will be ready for its new tenants by mid-October. While work is underway, the family, too, has been pitching in to ready their home, says Driedger.
“He, Ahmed [Shehadah], has been volunteering alongside the other volunteers so he’s been in there, you know, stripping wallpaper and painting and that sort of thing as well. He’s got some sweat equity into it.”
The family of seven, including five young children, immigrated to Canada a year-and-a-half ago under government sponsorship. The kids have already been registered for school, while the family has been living in a farmhouse in the township, north of Elmira.
“It’s a family that we were connected with through Woolwich Community Services,” explains Driedger.
Amongst the work needed is some painting and basic renovations. MennoHomes has contracted out for repairs and upgrades, including installing new wiring, replacing the old oil furnace with a high-efficiency gas furnace and water heater, and new flooring.
“And beyond that really the bulk of it is just a lot of freshening up – you know, stripping wallpaper and painting and that sort of thing,” said Driedger, noting that they still needed volunteers to help out.
For Mark Diller Harder, the church’s pastor, the project just makes sense.
“We have a church house that used to be the parsonage for the congregation years ago, [but] it hasn’t been used that way for 30-40 years,” he explained.
“We weren’t sure what to do with it, this building that needs some work and it didn’t have a use for the congregation anymore. So rather than just tear it down or some other kind of thing we decided to lease it to MennoHomes. So it’s … a really nice arrangement and really good to work with MennoHomes on that.”
The church entered into a 10-year lease agreement at a discounted rate with MennoHomes.
“They’re actually providing it as long as we cover the operating costs,” said Driedger, noting that the congregation was helping further by contributing towards the renovation costs and through volunteerism. “So the church has been very supportive.”
The tenants in turn will be paying rent towards covering those renovation costs over a period of time, as well as paying for the fixed costs such as insurance, says Driedger.
“But it will be at an affordable rent level, so it will be much less than market rent.”
For Driedger, he is just glad that even though MennoHomes did not have space for the family at their newly opened apartment building in Elmira – the Foundry – they were able to find affordable housing for the family nonetheless.
“We’re just happy we can be involved, we’re happy that the church thought of us as a partner to use for this,” he says.
Those interested in lending some assistance renovating the house, or donate money, can call Driedger at MennoHomes at 226-476-2535, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.