Robert Denley’s recent series on affordable housing in the Ottawa Citizen raises some key issues that are affecting affordable housing in this city, including that “Middle-income people looking for affordable apartments and homes get no meaningful assistance.” Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa has been continuously serving families in our community for 25 years, bridging the gap between social housing and market homeownership with close to 40% of our homeowners moving from social housing organizations. The families we serve must have a gross household income between $46,933 and $69,542 and have stable employment.
The majority of our families move from rental units that consume far more than 30% of their monthly income, which makes saving for a down payment or qualifying for a mortgage impossible. Many are living in overcrowded, run-down units that have been insufficiently maintained by landlords. Given the tight rental market in Ottawa, many of the families we serve live in these kinds of situations for years with no hope of finding better housing.
The families who are selected for Habitat homes volunteer 500 hours to demonstrate their commitment to homeownership. These hours include courses on homeownership which equip families with tools to become successful homeowners who can maintain, pay for and care for their homes. Once they have completed their hours, they purchase a home and pay a zero-interest mortgage with payments geared to less than 30% of their income. Their monthly mortgage payments are then re-invested into future builds.
As an affordable housing provider, we have faced challenges including land procurement, increasing construction costs, and the overall decrease in charitable giving across the country. We rely heavily on volunteer labour which is not always skilled or consistent. And unlike a typical builder, we receive no funds up front when we transfer title to a homeowner. Because we are the mortgage holders we receive repayment over time from the homeowners, meaning the capital investment we make into our builds is contingent on donations, sponsorship and grants. With rising land and construction costs, and a growing need for affordable housing, we are consistently challenged with new ways to provide more affordable homeownership across this city.
On a positive note, we are building more homes than ever before and will be serving 12 families in 2019-2020. In the years to come, we are planning to build 8-12 homes per year.
For families feeling stuck in unstable housing that doesn’t meet their needs, there is a way to break the cycle. We are now accepting applications for the final phase of our Orleans build, and will shortly be opening applications for our 2020 build in central Ottawa. I want to encourage everyone in my network to tell their friends and family about Habitat, because you never know who is in need, and we are here to help families purchase their own decent, affordable home.
I’m proud to lead an organization that presents a sustainable housing solution for low income families and to continue serving a critical role in the affordable housing continuum. And I’d like to thank Mr. Denley for bringing this issue to the forefront.
— Alexis Ashworth, CEO, Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa