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Becoming a Habitat Family part 2: How it Happens
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By Haydn Jensen


What if your family wanted to own your own home but were not eligible for a marketplace mortgage through conventional means? You would probably feel trapped, stuck renting forever in whatever neighbourhood your modest income could afford. For some, they accept their situation and manage as best they can. For others, they decide that these are not acceptable circumstances. Last issue we met the Yowin family--a single dad with three daughters. He could only afford an apartment in a neighbourhood where violence, drugs, drunkenness and foul language were common. This is not where he wanted to raise his girls. Banks and mortgage companies were not available to the Yowins, so they needed another option. Habitat was it.

Habitat for Humanity believes that "a hand up, not a hand out" is the best approach. By offering families interest-free mortgages for new homes in a family-friendly neighbourhoods since 1993, Habitat Heartland Ontario, have empowered over 57 low-income families to become successful homeowners in London and the surrounding area. The average Habitat homeowner can expect to save about $25,000 in interest payments over the life of their mortgage.

How does this happen? Well, first there are some basic criteria that a family must meet. Successful candidate families:

1. Annual household income between $25,000 and $60,000*?
2. Satisfactory credit?
3. Manageable debt?
4. Need for improved shelter?
5. Willing to contribute 500 volunteer hours?

To determine the need for improved housing, Habitat would ask if the present family living environment is unsafe or unhealthy. They also want to know if there are enough bedrooms for all family members according to government guidelines (aka. National Occupancy Standard). Finally, they assess whether or not the family is spending 40% or more of their income on housing needs.

Concerning the family’s willingness to partner with Habitat and volunteer 500 hours of "sweat equity", this involves participation in various and flexible ways. It might include working in one of Habitat's ReStore outlets, helping with an actual home construction, or participating in special events. Regardless, 500 hours must be completed before the family can move into their new home. For the most part, those participating as a volunteer need to be 16 years or age or older for safety reasons. Families must also be able to participate in all homeownership preparation workshops and training sessions.

In order to be able to repay an interest-free mortgage over an average of 25 years, a candidate family's income needs to be between $25,000 and $60,000 per year. Important to note--Ontario Works or Employment Insurance recipients are not eligible for the program. The applicant(s) must also have a manageable debt ratio and satisfactory credit rating. Habitat recommends that families dealing with overwhelming debt, a poor credit rating, or recent personal bankruptcy should first seek assistance from Credit and Debt Counselling Services, a not-for-profit service to improve their financial situation. Once their finances are stabilized, they can then move forward in applying as a potential Habitat homeowner.

A simple one-page "Homeownership Pre-Application" questionnaire is submitted to start things off. If the applicant meets the initial criteria they will then be given the full application package. After the application is reviewed, Habitat may arrange a home visit. Applicants are notified shortly after the review if they have been accepted to the program or not. Accepted Partner Families begin their sweat equity soon after signing their agreement to partner.

From beginning the application process to actually moving into the new home, the entire process generally takes the average Habitat family approximately one year to a year and a half, but it can be more or less. The application process itself, from the time a family submits their full application, takes roughly 3-4 months for review. Following acceptance, it takes about one year before the family will move into their new home, which allows for the family to work on their 500 Sweat Equity (volunteer) hours. Once the family is moved in and settled, the relationship with Habitat continues as a borrower-lender relationship (as with a homeowner paying off a mortgage to their bank), but the relationship also includes support and communication with their Family Partner Liaison. The Liaison is partnered with the new family as a mentor when they are accepted with the program and continues to support the family for one year after moving into their new home.

Habitat is actively looking for families for the Homeownership Program in Elgin County for a 2016 build. Families that have a steady income between $25,000 - $60,000, satisfactory credit with manageable debt, and a willingness for partner on 500 volunteer hours may be eligible for the program. Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario accepts applications at any time from families in Oxford, Middlesex, Elgin and Perth Counties for the Homeownership Program.

Interested families can get more details or apply by contacting Chelsey, the Family Services and Outreach Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario for more details or to apply.

Contact information:
Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario
Chelsey Gordon-Edmonds
519-814-0022
cgedmonds@habitat4home.ca www.habitat4home.ca






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