Habitat builds homes to break cycle of poverty

Vision is a world where everyone — despite a lower income — has a safe and decent place to call home

LACOMBE, Alta. — Habitat Red Deer has 193 low-income families from central Alberta needing a place to call their own.

Susan Smith, the chief executive officer of Habitat Canada who recently visited one of the organization’s building sites in Lacombe, said they are part of the 1.6 million Canadians needing affordable housing.

“Although I work in the national office and oversee the work that is being done, it is the volunteers at the local level that really make the difference in the success of the housing projects.

“We cannot make this happen for those families and break the cycle of poverty and provide what they need in terms of housing for a better life in the future without (volunteer) help.”

The organization began in Americus, Georgia, in 1976 and has grown into an international movement building or remodelling more than 600,000 homes worldwide.

Habitat organizations across Canada operate 96 retail outlets known as Re Store that accept donated used and new building materials that are re sold to the public. They estimate it keeps 22,000 tons of building materials out of landfills each year.

The store profits go toward building programs for housing for low-income families.

Brian Brake, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Red Deer region, said his group increased the number of Habitat homes allocated to 10 from one in central Alberta last year.

“We have started to build our houses in rural communities where lot prices are more economical,” he said, citing building sites in Three Hills, Delburne, Lacombe and Red Deer.

“It’s not a handout. The families enter into a no interest, no down payment mortgage agreement with us and the family gradually repays the mortgage that is carried by our organization.

“The family must be willing to contribute 500 hours of sweat equity towards building their own home, working in our Re Store or at a community charity of choice that is approved by Habitat,” said Brake.

The work must be completed before they move. They also have to be employed and have the ability to pay a mortgage, maintain a home and have an annual family income between $37,000 and $58,000.

Doug Harris, a volunteer and member of the Central Alberta Wood Workers Guild, helped build a home in Lacombe last fall.

He said the pre-fabricated sections of the duplexes arrived via transport truck from Habitat’s plant in Edmonton. It produces about 80 to 90 pre-fab units each year with volunteer help.

Harris had experience operating heavy machinery so his job was running the mobile crane to lift the different sections into place.

“Every day, we basically had a different crew of volunteers showing up. Some with experience, some not. We would run a crew of about eight people a day.… One day, we had eight ladies from the local Royal Bank show up and they pounded nails and operated equipment just like everyone else.”

Foremen Todd Lamoureux said some volunteers are retired or between jobs and some come from industry on a donated work day. Plumbing, electrical and roofing are normally done by contractors.

“It a real synergy to see all the volunteers making progress in building these homes,” he said.

Art Mah, a semi-retired restaurant owner from Red Deer, and Bruce Cartwright, a retired government forest manager from Sylvan Lake, were frequent volunteers at the Lacombe site who enjoyed the camaraderie on work crews and the opportunity to help others.

“Everyone deserves a decent place to live,” said Mah.

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