Town council ponders Habitat for Humanity in Stettler

Members of Town of Stettler council were given a great deal of information to ponder after a presentation by Habitat for Humanity...

Members of Town of Stettler council were given a great deal of information to ponder after a presentation by Habitat for Humanity at its Tuesday, Oct. 18 meeting.

Brian Brake, executive director of Habitat for Humanity (HFH) – Red Deer, was invited by the town to make a presentation to council after Councillor Sean Nolls and Assistant CAO Steve Gerlitz attended a meeting with HFH and the County of Stettler earlier this year. After reporting back on the meeting, Mayor Dick Richards had staff invite Brake to come and make his presentation to all of council, Gerlitz said.

The Red Deer association of HFH extended its coverage area to include the counties of Ponoka, Clearwater, Stettler, Lacombe and Red Deer in February 2015. This change prompted the organization to come out to the County of Stettler to make its presentation.

HFH has operated in Red Deer since 1994, Brake said, and since then has built 29 homes in its coverage area. Twenty-two of those homes are in Red Deer, four are in Lacombe, two are in Delburne and one in Three Hills.

The houses are built by volunteers, including the people who are moving in, and through HFH partnerships with various builders, suppliers and communities, Brake explained.

Before an HFH family can move in to an HFH home, they must meet the criteria. Families must have a combined income between $37,000 and $58,000 and must be working, should have completed 500 hours of volunteer community service and must show a need for improved housing.

“They do have to be employed,” Brake stressed.

Finally, HFH families must agree to sell the home back to HFH when they are ready to move out, so the home can then be offered to another HFH family.

“We go in and fix up the house and have another family move in,” he explained. Right now, there are more than a hundred people on the waiting list.

HFH families who are moving into existing HFH houses can help on new builds and other community projects to collect the 500 required volunteer hours.

The first HFH homes built in the Red Deer area were single-family detached homes. Today, HFH usually builds duplexes or triplexes, ensuring the group can offer as many homes as possible at the best expense.

“We want to offer as many homes as we can while keeping costs down,” he said.

Statistics show that HFH families live in their HFH homes for about five to seven years, Brake reported. The family’s mortgage payments are established and maintained at 25 per cent of the family’s monthly income, ensuring that the payments are never out of range of family’s ability to pay.

The lessened financial stress allows HFH families to save up for down payments on their own homes, work on bettering education, all the while providing a safe and healthy environment in which their family can live.

It also helps the community by taking low income families out of situations where they require financial support, either through subsidized living arrangements, reliance on food bank or other community services, and allows single-parent families a chance to live in a home.

However, being able to offer these homes comes with a financial price tag, which was another reason why Brake was speaking with council.

The estimated cost of building a four-unit HFH home in the town of Stettler is $680,000, reported Brake. The town would pay half of that, with HFH Red Deer paying roughly $60,000 and the rest coming from HFH Canada and its sponsors. The town’s portion includes the cost of the lot, and some could be paid in kind through services and use of machinery.

While all of council applauded HFH for the benefit the organization brought not only to the community, but to the families whose lives were changed by access to HFH housing, they were undecided on whether or not it would be appropriate for the Town of Stettler to invest in such a project.

Concerns were raised about the cost of the investment as well as the message the investment would send to people who manage to raise the money for home purchases or lot purchases on their own.

Councillor Al Campbell noted that in Red Deer, there are higher-income neighbourhoods with HFH homes sandwiched between homes. He expressed concern that it could affect property values as well as the enjoyment of property by its owners should adjacent homes be HFH homes.

Brake answered Campbell’s concerns by advising council that HFH homes are high quality and many developers deliberately invite HFH to build within their subdivisions.

In the end, council opted to make no decisions that night stemming from the HFH presentation, and thanked Brake for coming.

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