The home(owner) advantage
Talking about the housing crisis with Habitat for Humanity Canada’s President.
CC: How has the pandemic affected income inequality? Is that something Habitat is addressing?
Deans: The pandemic has certainly exacerbated income inequality and, combined with the continued rising cost of housing, put homeownership out of reach for even more families.
Qualifying for a traditional mortgage, saving enough for a down payment and the cost of a home have always been barriers to homeownership. Habitat for Humanity aims to reduce those barriers so that more people living with low incomes can access the benefits of homeownership with an affordable mortgage – including being able to build financial stability and equity.
[This leads to] better educational and health outcomes, both for the parents and for the children.
CC: What does an equitable, post-Covid recovery look like?
Deans: While the pandemic has certainly exposed and, in many cases, deepened significant inequalities, our goal remains the same – to reduce barriers to homeownership so that more people can benefit from the advantages and benefits that homeownership provides. These barriers to housing disproportionately affect people of colour. According to Statistics Canada, only 40 percent of Black people in Canada own their own home, the lowest level of homeownership amongst any group.
The housing crisis is about more than homeownership; it’s also about working together across the housing continuum to ensure more Canadians affected by the housing crisis have access to a decent and affordable place to call home – that they have a safe and secure place to grow and plan a future.
CC: What is unique about Habitat’s Indigenous Housing Partnership, and can you share any specific stories as illustration?
Deans: The Indigenous Housing Partnership is unique because it’s an equitable partnership between local Habitat for Humanity organizations and Indigenous communities. We work with Indigenous communities to identify their most pressing housing issues and how they think we can help, so that we deliver housing solutions that are by Indigenous communities and for Indigenous communities. An important part of this initiative is providing skills and training opportunities to Indigenous youth to equip them with the trade skills they need to maintain or build new homes and housing solutions in their communities.
For example, Habitat for Humanity Grey Bruce has an ongoing partnership with the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) to build much-needed homes in the community. Funded by CMHC and built by Habitat in partnership with the community, families apply using Habitat’s family selection criteria, but the homes are purchased under a deferred homeowner model with the mortgages held by the Band rather than Habitat. To date, they have built 13 homes and plan to build an additional four homes in 2022.
In Pikangikum, the elders of the band identified finding and implementing a solution to providing access to clean drinking water in homes as a top priority for their community. Habitat Manitoba agreed to partner and became the project manager/prime contractor for phase 2 of the project while other partners raised the funds to pay for the work. There was a significant skills training portion to this project, which engaged Indigenous youth in the community in learning how to retrofit homes and install water tanks.
CC: What gives you hope for the future, in relation to your work with Habitat for Humanity?
Deans: Housing – decent, affordable and safe housing – is truly transformative. Its impact is positive and long-lasting. That’s what gives me hope for the future. But that’s not the only thing that gives me hope.
The housing crisis is not insurmountable. But it will require all levels of government, working with housing organizations, to make positive and lasting change. All of us at Habitat – our national team and our colleagues at 50 local Habitats across Canada – see the need and opportunity to significantly scale our work to build more homes and smooth the pathway to homeownership for more people, but we can’t do that alone.
We need the support and partnership of individuals, corporations, other housing advocates and communities to make a difference. Working with organizations like CMHC, for example, has helped us build more homes across Canada and increase the impact of the donations we receive.
Housing is an incredibly powerful lever, one people can use to become socially and financially stable and self-reliant, build equity and transform their futures and communities. When people have access to decent and affordable housing, the possibilities are endless.
Julia Deans is the President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada.