Marilyn Prior never thought she would own any home, let alone a brand-new one in Victoria.
But thanks to the Victoria chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the single mom and her children recently moved into a threebedroom, 1,500-square-foot duplex in a quiet Saanich neighbourhood - a huge step up from the 500-square-foot one-bedroom suite they had been living in.
The working mother isn't moving into social housing, though. Once she completes her last 40 hours of labour, the deed for the duplex will be in her name.
"It's better than winning a lottery," says Prior, a community health worker raising two boys, three-year-old Trevor and John, 7. "Sure, if I won the lottery, I could go out and buy any house - but it would be something that has no meaning. Here, I put my heart and sweat into it. My friends helped, volunteers who I have never met helped, all to build my house."
Prior and her immediate neighbour (another single mother in the other half of the duplex) live in the 17th and 18th house Habitat for Humanity has built in Greater Victoria. The sod turning was in June 2011. The houses were completed in March.
Habitat for Humanity's mandate is to help lowincome families own their own homes. It works with government agencies and businesses to obtain goods and services at low or no expense to drive down the cost of construction. Land donations help, too.
In this case, the vacant property on Ker Avenue near Tillicum Mall was provided by B.C. Housing for the token sum of $10. The Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating and United Way of Greater Victoria were major sponsors.
Additional support came from the Royal Bank Foundation, the Home Depot Foundation, the Victoria Real Estate Board, Zebra Design Group and the District of Saanich.
Zebra, known for its award-winning, high-end residential designs, donated its design expertise. The company's challenge was to make a duplex fit into an established neighbourhood of single-family homes.
"Obviously, we needed to rezone. But we wanted a design that would be complementary - to enhance the neighbourhood - not something that would leave a negative taste," says Rus Collins, lead designer at Zebra. "We didn't want to emphasize that it was a duplex, so we made the entrance of the second unit at a 90-degree angle to the street, so that it wouldn't be obvious."
Their end result was a side-by-side, two-storey structure that didn't visually look much different from the houses that predominate in the district.
The homes were built with donated or substantially discounted new building materials. Funds to buy materials come in part from sales from the not-for-profit organization's ReStore in Langford, which sells donated building material. When possible, second-hand materials from the store were used in the construction to keep costs low.
The homes were built solely with volunteer labour, eliminating one of the largest costs of any home construction.
"We had a mix of skilled and unskilled workers," says Gordon English, president of Genco Construction, who donated his expertise and time to oversee the construction.
Volunteers included skilled construction workers working after hours and on the weekend, apprentices who needed the experience, corporate work teams and friends and relatives of the recipient families.
Everybody coming on the worksite was given a safety orientation and assigned tasks they were comfortable with. It could be construction, landscaping, painting or helping install insulation.
"It was very rewarding working with the families," says English. "We got to know them and they engaged with the volunteers as well, getting to know the people helping them build their house."
The recipients along with their relatives and friends are required to put in a total of 500 hours of "sweat equity" toward the home. It's a requirement few recipients object to.
"You will never hear me complain about working toward my house," says Prior. "Truth be told, I would have been willing to do more. I plan to volunteer when Habitat for Humanity builds their next house in Victoria."
"Partner" families - the term Habitat for Humanity uses for the families they help - don't need to come up with a down payment. Habitat for Humanity provides a no-interest mortgage (which includes the property tax) based on a maximum of 30 per cent of the family's gross household income. The mortgage payments, in turn, provide seed money for the not-for-profit's next local project.
English, who was happy to complete the project ontime and on budget, said it's all about giving families a leg up instead of a handout. "It's about breaking the cycle of poverty through home ownership."
HOW IT WORKS
How are families selected?
Selection is based on:
to partner ? Willingness
? Ability to pay
How is the selling price determined?
? Habitat for Humanity sells the
house to "partner" families at a fair market value determined by a professional appraiser.
Why is it so affordable? Mortgage terms make it affordable:
is no down payment. ? There
? Habitat for Humanity (which holds the mortgage) charges no interest on the mortgage. All pay-ments go directly against the mortgage principal.
? Mortgage payments aren't tied to amortization of the mortgage. Instead, payments (including principal, property tax and house insurance) are based on a maximum of 30 per cent of the household income.
If the household income goes up, the increased payments are applied to reducing the principal.
? There is an annual review based on income-tax receipts. What if owners wish to sell? The families are free to sell at any time.
? If they sell within the first 10 years, Habitat for Humanity has the right to repurchase the home at the original fair market value. The family will receive the total sum of mortgage payments made to date.
? From years 11 to 20, in addition to receiving their equity, there is a sliding scale for property appreciation of 10 per cent every year. For example, in the 11th year, if the house was to be sold, the family would get 10 per cent of any property appreciation and Habitat for Humanity would get 90 per cent - all the way up to 90 per cent for the family and 10 per cent for Habitat on year 20.
? After 20 years, the family can sell the property and keep any appreciation realized.
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