40 to 50 homes to be built for low-income earners in Coquitlam

‘Forced savings’ are part of Habitat for Humanity project

Affordable home ownership may seem like an oxymoron in Metro Vancouver but Habitat for Humanity is working with the city of Coquitlam on a project that will enable low to moderate income earners to enter the housing market. 

Habitat was selected among 13 proposals from eight proponents to build 40 to 50 units of affordable housing on city land at 1358 Coast Meridian Rd. The project is part of Coquitlam’s affordable housing strategy, which was adopted in 2015.

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But instead of building subsidized rental units, Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver CEO Dennis Coutts said his organization would be constructing affordable homes for modest-income families.

“This is a made-in-Vancouver solution,” he told The Tri-City News

The model being used in Coquitlam would see residents take an ownership stake in the property, allowing them to build up equity, Coutts said. 

For example, if a family pays $1,000 a month for 10 years, they would receive $120,000 minus a fee and the cost of repairing any significant damage when they move out of the home, as part of a buy-back agreement with Habitat for Humanity. The returned money would allow the family to enter the traditional housing market, he said. 

“It is forced savings,” Coutts said. “We return their equity at some particularl point. Now they have some cash.

“The number one reason why Canadians don’t own their home is that they don’t have a downpayment.”

To be eligible, participants must be employed, with an income cap of $68,000 a year; they must demonstrate a housing need; and submit to a vigorous criminal record and background check. 

They are also required to do 500 hours of volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, Coutts said, which could include anything from helping with the construction of the Coast Meridian Road development to working at one of the five Habitat for Humanity ReStore’s in the Lower Mainland.

“[Volunteering] is intended to create a pride of ownership,” he said. “If they fail to do the 500 hours, they don’t get the house.”

A similar affordable homeownership project has been built in Burnaby and there are other examples in Toronto and Edmonton that Coutts said have been successful. Over the lifespan of a development, he added, hundreds of families can benefit, which helps break the cycle of poverty. 

“This isn’t a quick fix,” he said. “It is generational.”

The next step in the process is for Habitat for Humanity to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city, which will outline the property transfer, target population, and a potential contribution to the city’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund. 

Coutts said Habitat is planning to have the site developed by 2020. 

gmckenna@tricitynews.com

@gmckennaTC

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