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Making the unaffordable affordable
Battling a landlord about mould in a bedroom of their rented apartment was not Sarah Howard and Kenny Bragg's idea of fun.
The young Victoria couple were already struggling to make ends meet, trying desperately to get ahead in life and provide a decent living environment for their young daughter, Kailyn. It was a time in which they bounced from one apartment to another.
Recalling those days from a few years back as they sit at their kitchen table in the Bethune Avenue "flexplex" built by Habitat for Humanity Victoria, they shake their heads at where they were.
"It was paycheque to paycheque," Howard recalls.
Their last apartment was in what they felt was a dangerous neighbourhood, where drug activity and other disruptions were common.
Oct. 1 will mark one year that the family has been in their own place. They're paying a mortgage to Habitat, making minor alterations to their living space and even learning what it's like to have a renter.
"My first landlord call came at 12:30 a.m. and it was to go down and kill a spider," Bragg says, laughing.
The basement suite income was needed to cover the mortgage, Howard says, but has allowed them some breathing room. It's part of Habitat's strategy of giving people a hand up.
"What they want you to do is get yourself in a better financial position," Howard says.
"We couldn't save anything before. Now we're contributing to an RESP for Kailyn and we have extra room to be able to save."
Habitat for Humanity Victoria has built 18 homes since 2000, most recently the Bethune fiveplex in 2010.
The concept is simple: future homeowners perform at least 500 hours of "sweat equity" in exchange for a no-interest mortgage on a brand-new home, built largely with donated materials and labour.
A flexible payment plan, based on household income, sees families pay between 25 and 30 per cent of their take-home pay on the mortgage, far less than most lower-income families spend on accommodation.
Executive director Yolanda Meijer says Habitat Victoria’s experience is that many families pay off the no-interest loans more quickly than they ever imagined. And, as with Howard and Bragg, their life circumstances often change dramatically.
“It’s because they’ve gone on to do the very thing we've hoped they would, which is to be more successful,” Meijer says.
People who don’t understand how Habitat works have insinuated that the couple received an unfair advantage, Bragg says. He tells them about the sweat equity.
“The truth is, we sacrificed a year’s worth of weekends for our family so we could be in this situation.”
With Kailyn, 4, a year away from going to kindergarten up the road at Cloverdale Traditional School, Howard, 23 in November, is building a home-based business. Next year she hopes to be employed outside the home as well.
Bragg, 27, is a first cook at The Guild Restaurant on Wharf Street. He talks enthusiastically about how he has finally landed at an establishment where he envisions a future, one where he will soon receive benefits.
The couple, in perhaps the best financial position they’ve ever been, is excited about building equity rather than lining someones else’s pockets.
“From where we were a year ago, it’s mind-blowing,” Bragg says.
Next up for Habitat for Humanity is a four-unit townhome project at 4000 Cedar Hill X Rd., for which Meijer hopes shovels will hit the ground this fall.
For more about the program, visit habitatvictoria.com or call 250-480-7688.
Did you know?
Since 2000, Habitat for Humanity Victoria has built 18 homes in the region: nine in Saanich, six in
Sidney, two in Central Saanich and one in Victoria. The mix includes seven single-family dwellings,
three duplexes and one fiveplex.
Three owners have already retired their mortgages.