British Columbia

'The need is huge': Habitat for Humanity still building in midst of red-hot real estate

The Habitat for Humanity's Greater Vancouver branch is giving 12 Richmond families a place to call home and the organization says the need is much greater than that.

'Land is always an issue in Vancouver,' says CEO of Greater Vancouver branch

Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver is breaking ground in Richmond, B.C. this month. It will build homes for 12 families. (Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver)

The Greater Vancouver's Habitat for Humanity branch says the need to build homes for families who don't qualify for a traditional mortgage is greater than ever.

"The need is huge," said CEO Dennis Coutts, "we get a lot more applications for housing than we ever have."

Since June, the organization has received 900 applications, and later this month, it will give 12 of those families a place to call home — all are working families with children, a few single mothers, and a single father with three kids. 

There will be 6 single-family dwellings, each with secondary suites. (Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver)

The organization is breaking ground on the site in Richmond this month, after three years of chasing permits and rezoning applications.

It bought the site from B.C. Housing for roughly $400,000 and — as with all Habitat for Humanity projects — the families will chip in 500 hours of labour to help build the homes along with the help of countless volunteers. If you want to help, they're looking for volunteers.

Once the families move in, they will each pay a mortgage worth 30 per cent of their total incomes. 

"Everything changes when they have a safe place to live. Their lives change, they become stable, they get an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty," said Coutts. 

The six single-family dwellings, each with secondary suites, are expected to be ready in one year.

Finding land an issue

While, the organization is celebrating and looking forward to adding a dozen units to its pool of 31 homes in Metro Vancouver, officials say they wish they could do more. 

"It would be great if we could do hundreds instead of dozens," said Coutts, but Vancouver's red-hot real estate prices have made it a challenge to meet growing demand.

"Land is always an issue in Vancouver," he said, "nothing happens in housing unless you have a piece of land, and those are tough to come by."

"We certainly don't have the resources to go into the open market and compete with a developer," said Coutts.

Instead, they have to find more creative ways — like searching for properties that are up for donation, or are deeply discounted by municipalities.

"It has been a lot of work to find a solution that works here," said Coutts.