With a long history, Habitat for Humanity is about more than building a house

“At Habitat for Humanity, we believe everyone has the right to a safe and decent place to live, and that it benefits all of society when they do,” says John McLaughlin. “That’s why we are looking beyond the build, to how decent housing transforms futures, strengthens communities, and fosters resiliency and stability that can transcend generations.”


McLaughlin, Resource Manager for Grey-Bruce Habitat for Humanity, was guest speaker for the Saugeen Shores Men’s Probus Tuesday, August 1st meeting, explaining the many services that Habitat provides.

He went on to say that entire generations and population groups are being left behind, giving up on home ownership and putting more pressure on other parts of the housing continuum. Affordable home ownership can be the bridge that leads to stronger families, communities, and a more equitable country.  

“We are committed to partnering with government, other affordable housing advocates, and with communities at most risk – including people who are newcomers, racialized, and Indigenous – to tackle the housing crisis in this country,” he added.

Since 1985, Habitat for Humanity Canada, through 46 local Habitats and thousands of volunteers, has helped more than 4,000 working families become owners of safe and affordable homes. For every dollar Habitat for Humanity receives, $4 in social benefits are returned to the community.

According to McLaughlin, “A lot of people think that Habitat was started by Jimmy Carter but it was, in fact, started  in Georgia by Linda and Miller Fuller in 1976 and has grown to be the largest builder of affordable housing in the world.  It came to Canada in 1987 where it built the first Habitat house in Winkler, Manitoba.  Habitat Grey Bruce started shortly after and it is now the oldest Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Canada building houses since 1987 and has provided housing for almost 80 families.”

“While some people may think we build houses and give them away,” said McLaughlin, “we don’t.  We build houses and sell them to families at fair market value but with no down payment and a no interest mortgage that is geared to income.  According to CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing), no more than 30 per cent of family income can go to a mortgage.  We (Habitat) use 25 per cent to make it in what is considered to be affordable.”

Habitat builds houses for low income families. “Saugeen Shores is going through a time now when it’s finding it difficult to retain people who work in the middle income jobs because they can’t afford to live here. It’s a huge problem but to the credit of the municipality, they have started taking action.  It is the only one I know of in Grey Bruce that is being active. The town has consulted with us and we have discussed options.”

There is now a waiting list for a Habitat home.  The first step is to make an application to Habitat for Humanity.  “We make a home visit to each applicant to determine if their need is valid and to determine which families need housing the most,” said McLaughlin. “Unfortunately, there are no regulations in Grey Bruce for landlords to maintain a property in a decent way and renters will not complain as they are afraid of being evicted.”

“We also have to ensure that their income is enough to carry a 25 per cent mortgage payment.  Ontario Works is not considered income.  The applicant also has to commit to 500 volunteer hours of labour in helping to build their own home or that of another and they don’t get the keys until they do complete their volunteer hours. Habitat carries the mortgage and there is no bank involved.  Homeowners must also attend courses for things such as budgeting, wills and estate planning, being a good neighbour and how to maintain the house,” said McLaughlin. The program is working so well that Bruce County Housing has asked Habitat to possibly do the same things for its tenants.”

“Homes are generally bungalows,” he added, “In order to build a second story above ten feet, you must be certified for heights and, because most of the work is done by volunteers, that isn’t feasible.  Safety is number one.  The typical square footage is 1300 to 1400 square feet for a three or four bedroom.  We also acquired tiny homes that were built in Milton and, at 500 square feet, are suitable for a single person.”

According to McLaughlin, it’s through donations, including materials, that also allow homes to be built surpassing regulated codes.  “For instance wall insulation requires an R22 rating but ours are at R30 and ceiling rating is R40 but ours are at R60.  We can do that because all our insulation is donated.  Without our corporate partners, we couldn’t provide the affordable homes that we do.  CTC Drywall, Dupont, Dow Chemical donates insulation, GAF donates shingles for roofing and with volunteer labour, we are able to build the homes that are affordable.”

“Also, Whirlpool Canada donates a fridge and stove for every Habitat home in Canada and has done so for years.  We also buy a washer and dryer so that new homeowners have up-to-date and energy efficient appliances and to me, that’s amazing,” said McLaughlin.

While many volunteers have never done construction, McLaughlin pointed out that when they learn the rudiments and then walk away, “…they have a feeling of satisfaction and are proud in seeing what they have accomplished.”

In addition to the companies that donate product, there are also those that make cash donations based on a three-year commitment, such as Bruce Power, Fromation, Royal Lepage and Society of United Professionals among others.  “The three-year commitment enables us to plan for the future as we know that those dollars will be coming in and we always have to working on builds down the road.”

Habitat for Humanity holds the mortgage with all monies going back into a fund that, in turn, helps to finance other mortgages.  “Every dollar goes back into builds. There are no administration costs as our limited staff are paid completely through the surplus revenues raised at our Re-Stores in Hanover, Owen Sound and Port Elgin.  Home Depot is our largest contributor to the Re-Stores. A five-ton truck that drives to five stores in Toronto and picks up product.  Items returned to Home Depots are not returned to the manufacturers and to keep them out of landfills are donated to Habitat across Canada so that the Re-Stores can sell them.”

Habitat has also started a service where it will take out kitchen cupboards, remove them and then give a tax receipt for the value of the cupboards. “Kitchen cupboards are very good sellers at our Re-Stores.”

McLaughlin said that Grey-Bruce Habitat is “… very proud of our relationship with our First Nations communities that started with the Chippewas of Nawash.  In 2017, we arrived at a Memorandum of Understanding and negotiated with the Band and Council.  They said that their building program wasn’t working.  They would give a family so much money but to buy product at retail they was no way a house could be complete and, therefore, you can see a lot of homes that are only half done.  We built one house as a trial and it was based on trust and it was the first house built on First Nation’s land in all of Ontario.”

            New Habitat home for Tim and Josie Dingler of Nawash – (Nov. 2018 Saugeen times file photo)

CMHC said that it had a program for First Nations and financed four houses on a rent-to-own basis and it was the first project of its kind in Canada. “As a result, Grey-Bruce Habitat travelled all across Canada explaining to other Habitats and First Nations how this can be done and it has since been replicated across the country. Now we are working with Saugeen First Nation on a five-home build.  To date, we have provided 28 First Nations families with new homes which is unheard of.”

While COVID was a difficult time when volunteers could not be on build sites, Habitat went into the community and began the ‘Inspire Program’ that hired eight students. “There is a huge need in the trades for workers so those in the program completed courses and, when finished, got a whole kit of tools and offered a job for the summer.  It is a win-win.”

At the end of builds, rather than lay the workers off, Habitat began the ‘Critical Repair Program’.  According to StatsCan, 68 per cent of houses on the two reserves, Saugeen and Nawash, were in desperate need of repair compared to 30 per cent throughout Ontario.  “We began a pilot project on the reserves and hope to branch out to the rest of communities.  Gordon Foods heard about this and sponsored a project for a grandfather whose grandchildren came to live with him.  So, we put an addition on for them and it’s the children who are motivators.  It has been proven that a child who is in a Habitat home does better in school, has better health and is generally happier.”

The builds continue with five almost completed at Saugeen First Nation, another two to be built at Nawash and another four to seven in Owen Sound.  “We are also in discussion with Saugeen Shores to perhaps build a multi-unit development and they have been very cooperative.  The limiting factor is land and the cost of lots so we try to do high-density housing.”

He also added that Saugeen Shores municipal council is “… the most proactive in Grey Bruce of any municipality for attainable and affordable housing.  They formed a special committee that I sat on, they have also changed some of the rules to allow people to build granny flats and that you don’t have to have 1,000 square feet to build a house.  They are being the most proactive of any municipality around here as they recognize the need for housing.”

“Together, we can go beyond the build, by investing in affordable housing and homeownership to provide a stronger future for families, communities, and our country, together.  We bring communities together to help families build strength, stability and independence through affordable homeownership,” said McLaughlin, also pointing out that there is no government funding.  All fundraising for Grey Bruce remains here.”

To read more about Habitat for Humanity, CLICK HERE.