Habitat for Humanity’s northern challenges

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Matt Belliveau has been the executive director of Habitat for Humanity NWT for roughly a year and despite the success of the brand and constructs for families in need in Yellowknife, he recognizes that housing challenges in the territory are stark.

Cost challenges remain high in the NWT for Habitat for Humanity, which aims to put Northerners in market housing at an affordable price.
NNSL file photo

Belliveau points to the 2016 Census in particular which shows that the NWT has among the highest core need for housing in Canada with 2,255 households – 15.5 per cent of all households – facing core need.

Core need (https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/ref/dict/households-menage037-eng.cfm) is defined by the extent to which housing is determined “unsuitable,” or overcrowded; “inadequate,” or in need of major repairs, or “unaffordable”, where households are spending more than 30 percent of take home income on housing.

“NWT is above the 12.7 per cent Canadian average rate for core housing need rate,” Belliveau said. The only one higher is Nunavut and that is  at 36.5 per cent.” (https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/chn-biml/index-eng.cfm)

To tackle the housing need, Belliveau said Habitat for Humanity has a fairly routine approach to building houses which has made its brand known world wide. The charity provides affordable housing for low-income housing by accumulating materials in-kind and providing occupants with a no-interest mortgage and taking payments from the dwellers as a bank would.
The non-profit organization obtains low cost housing by obtaining in-kind donations such as with land, monetary donations, housing supplies or skilled labour and the family occupants provide 500 hours of sweat equity.  In the end, dwellers get a home at a fair market, and affordable price.

“Because we go out and get donations from businesses and residents and create initiatives like raffles, we are able to keep bill costs down and families make payments down to us,” he explained.  “Those payments then go toward the next build ”

Outside of Yellowknife

Belliveau says the eventual plan is to expand outside of Yellowknife to communities that need housing, but there are challenges to do so. A larger and more urban population with more diverse streams of income and sources for donations makes it easier to raise money for a housing project. To go into other smaller communities would require local municipalities or band governments to want it to happen. This would likely mean in-kind support such as with local communities donating land for builds or community businesses helping with the finishing touches on projects such as by providing appliances, landscaping or other small contributions that can be procured locally.

“That is something that we are looking at and it is going to be further down the road because we do need to reach a point of capacity where that is possible,” Belliveau said.

“Building in Yellowknife makes the most sense because it has a larger base of donors to draw from and a more skilled labour base to contribute to builds for housing for Habitat for Humanity.”

Because NWT is in the title of the charity, there is always the aim to expand into the territory more broadly, he said.
Last summer the organization travelled to Behchoko, where it is recognized there is a large core housing need. Belliveau added that because the North Slave community is so close to Yellowknife’s donor and skills base, it has been identified as the next logical place for a potential expansion. However, he cautions that there are no set plans in stone at the present moment.

“It is a challenge because the amount of money we need to raise is much higher than what would be faced by southern Habitat for Humanity affiliates, he said. “In a very small community, typically the costs of housing (in the south) is much lower and so you don’t have to raise as much money. In the North, it is a double edged sword with a small donor base and high building costs. You have to raise a lot of money and money doesn’t go as far and so it is a real challenge for scaling up.”

Raffle to build home

Raising money for builds that are expensive means being creative in fundraising, Belliveau said.
To date, Habitat for Humanity NWT has built two projects in Yellowknife and is aiming to build another this year on Spence Road in Kam Lake.
There are funding grants available that could be beneficial in the future, he added, but in the immediate-term the organization is holding a raffle as per one example of how it is raising money.

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Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Working in Yellowknife, he covers education-based stories and general news but has also taken other beats in the past, including city hall and entertainment. He is a champion of the printed word and the importance of newspapers. As a board member of the United Way NWT and Rotary True North, he believes in the importance of civic engagement and community building. He spends his spare time with his boxer Sharona. Simon can be reached at (867) 766-8295 and editorial@nnsl.com.

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