By Gabrielle Tieman
Bernie and Kristy Korten existed in constant anxiety. Living in a cramped 700 square foot apartment, the young parents of two children were plagued daily by an inconsistent and faulty electrical supply, water that seeped through the walls and a bathroom floor so deteriorated they could not believe it hadn’t yet caved in. The family did not feel safe in their home.
That daily dread is now a distant memory for the Kortens who currently own a beautiful and safe three bedroom home; all thanks to Habitat for Humanity Niagara and their mission to build a world where everyone has a safe place to live and grow.
Providing a hand-up not a hand-out, Habitat Niagara is dedicated to building affordable housing and promoting home ownership as a means of creating change within a family while simultaneously breaking the cycle of poverty.
“Moving into a house causes stability,” said Karen Dolyniuk, Chief Development Officer for Habitat Niagara. “For many families, their children’s health and education improves – many go on to post-secondary education – because they now have a stable and healthy environment to grow in. That is our big impact with these families. It is transformational.”
Locally established in 1993 by a group of volunteers, Habitat Niagara began as a small operation, constructing one home every other year from donations mustered from the community. But despite small beginnings, the chapter has grown exponentially in 21 years, evolving to comprise of hundreds of volunteers and business partnerships whom have all contributed to the construction of 43 homes within the region and hundreds worldwide.
The social enterprise’s impact on the improvement of life in low income families is next to none; in 2015 alone, seven houses will be constructed in the region by Habitat Niagara alongside their partners Reliance, Walker Industries, Landmark Home Solutions, Cotton Inc., Dave Wiens and Team, Nauta Home Designs, Niagara College and financial donors Constellation, Diamond Estate Winery, the Wine Rack and IBEW Local 303.
But construction does not stop at the Niagara border; for every home built, the board of directors donates a set amount of money back to Habitat Canada. That money is then tripled by the Federal Government, progressing into enough funding to construct dozens of homes internationally.
“For every one home we build here this year, eight homes get built internationally,” said Dolyniuk. “That means in 2015, we will be able to build 56 homes. That is an amazing impact.”
The process is simple and effective; Habitat for Humanity partners with families who are ready for the responsibility of homeownership, but unfortunately do not qualify for a traditional mortgage due to their financial circumstances. Families are selected based on their present need for a safe and affordable home, income, willingness to work towards building solid relationships with volunteers, donors, community members and neighbours as a Habitat homeowner and the ability to repay a monthly mortgage through both 500 hours of sweat equity and traditional funds.
Once chosen by the Habitat board and volunteer family services, the partner family will then purchase their Habitat home through a no-down payment, no-interest mortgage with monthly payments, including property taxes and utilities, set at no more than 25 per cent of the family’s gross monthly income.
This process of choosing a family only begins once the funds for construction have been secured; ensuring families are never left waiting once they have been chosen for a new home.
“We don’t keep a wait list of the families, it’s just not fair to them,” said Dolyniuk. “When we know we have the funds raised, only then will we put out a family search.
“One of our families who are moving into Niagara Falls, they have been in Canada for 10 years and they have been on the waiting list for Niagara Regional Housing for the size of their family for eight years,” said Dolyniuk. “So we are hoping to help ease some of that waiting list.”
All mortgage payments are then reinvested back into building future homes for more families.
“You are not just building a home for your family, but you are helping another family in need,” said Dolyniuk. “It’s continual.”
Furthering community investment is Habitat Niagara’s ReStore, an open to the public, volunteer run home renovation outlet that offers everything from new and gently used building supplies and kitchens to home décor and appliances at a fraction of the retail price.
Located on Bunting Road in St. Catharines, 100 per cent of the ReStore’s proceeds go towards Habitat Niagara’s operating expenses and home renovations – so buyers can be ensured that every dollar donated is directly contributing to the construction of new homes.
“It is entirely Niagara driven and a big revenue generator,” said Alastair Davis, CEO at Habitat for Humanity Niagara. “It is open to the public and the money goes right back into improving the community.”
All products are donated by community members and industrial business partners. With a commitment to preserving the environment, the ReStore team also offers home renovators an alternative route to discarding their old kitchens and bathrooms into landfills. Their team will come into your home and remove your old kitchen cabinets and appliances for free, then sell it at the store. The family will then receive a tax receipt while another family receives a brand new kitchen at a fraction of the cost.
“Everything is reused,” said Dolnyiuk. “We divert all of that dust and garbage from the landfills by helping families renovate. It is the equivalent of taking 130 cars off the road each year.”
Habitat Niagara is currently searching for new volunteers for their second ReStore location, opening March 2015 in Fonthill. All volunteers are welcome and the Niagara team requires no more than a three-four hour a week commitment – though volunteers are welcome to take on as many hours as they would like.
“We welcome volunteers from all kinds of backgrounds,” said Davis. “To run a place like this it takes everyone from the guy who likes to tinker to get that light to work to the people who want to come in and clean the floor and keep the place tidy and dust free. It is this big cycle and every bit helps.”
For more information, visit habitatniagara.ca