Habitat group copes with public confusion

“We can’t help someone who is living on the street”



After years of struggle, Habitat for Humanity is preparing to build its first house in Iqaluit for some lucky family of moderate means.

But while planning continues for the construction of the home in the summer of 2007, local organizers of the international, non-profit Christian organization are still trying to overcome confusion about the program.

This fall, Habitat for Humanity Iqaluit will select the family who will own the three-bedroom, 1,000 square foot home. It will cost between $180,000 and $200,000 and will be built on one of two sites on Federal Road donated by Nunavut Housing Corp.

“Habitat for Humanity houses will not solve the housing crisis in Iqaluit,” said Melanie Abbott, a board member. “We can’t help someone who is living on the street.”

She said that it is essential to educate the public because many people think that the project builds a free house for a family, when it is actually intended for low- to moderate- income families who will pay a low-interest mortgage.

With current housing prices in Iqaluit, the Habitat project allows people to own a home when it would otherwise be difficult.

To meet Habitat for Humanity’s criteria, the family must earn between $85,000 and $90,000 a year to demonstrate they can afford to keep the home that’s given to them.

“It helps one family,” said Abbott. “But once we build the first house then we can build a second and a third.” She said that the houses could also help families to move out of overcrowded homes.

“This is the first remote northern build,” said Abbott, and it has been over a decade in the making. In the early 1990s, some Iqaluit residents began talking with Habitat for Humanity about a project. The organization was reluctant at first.

“Of course in the North we have added constraints of a short summer construction season, the high cost of materials and sealift schedules,” said Abbott. Even after the head office agreed, the group had a long way to go.

As an established organization, Habitat for Humanity has a system of criteria in place that must be met and Abbott said the process to become an affiliate was arduous and took years.

The organization does not normally build in communities of less than 10,000 people, “but the need is here and we are a capital city,” said Abbott. After many requests for flexibility due to unique circumstances, in May 2005, the organization received legal status and the project became official.

For Don Sinclaire-Chenier, the board member in charge of fundraising, all of the work will soon pay off. “We’ve been working at this for years and the fun part is coming,” he said. “It’s been a tough grind but we’re there. We’re ready to go.”

He helped organize the “Let’s Hammer Homelessness” campaign that raised $5,000 in three days. The current “Let’s Hammer it Home” campaign is ongoing and provides a steady flow of revenue by allowing shoppers at Northmart to add specified amounts to their bill, while the money goes to the organization.

“It’s about the cash, but it’s also about the community support, which has been phenomenal,” said Abbott. “This is completely worthwhile to bring to the North.”

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