Nova Scotia

The house a community bought: man who needs kidney receives gift of new home

Alvero Wiggins and his family are about to move into their first home after people in Halifax and a group of real estate agents chipped in to buy the community leader a house. Wiggins, who needs a kidney transplant, says it is a life-changing experience.

Alvero Wiggins moved his family into public housing after being diagnosed with kidney failure

Alaya, Alvero, Chelcie, Javier and Jaden Wiggins pose outside their new home. They are overwhelmed that so many people contributed to help buy the home to give them a safe place to live. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

As Alaya Wiggins sprinted through her new home for the first time, the four-year-old asked: "Mommy, are we going to live here forever?"

Her mother, Chelsie Wiggins replied "Yes."

Taking their first steps in the new house was a special moment for the Wiggins family. It was extra special because it was bought with more than $100,000 in donations from friends, family and strangers.

"It's amazing, it's overwhelming when I think about it," said Alaya's father, Alvero Wiggins. "It's awesome. I'm thrilled. It's incredible."

The family's journey to the house started two years ago.

Kidney failure

They were renting a home in Halifax's west end when Alvero was diagnosed with kidney failure.

He could no longer work. He now spends nine hours a night on dialysis as he waits for a transplant.

Alvero, his wife and four children had to move into public housing in Uniacke Square to make ends meet. Wiggins said the home is neglected by the landlords and run down.

The family had to move out for two weeks to deal with a rat infestation.

"It's terrible to raise your kids in conditions that aren't fit for human beings," he said. "We had to threaten to bring TV cameras in order for them to take us serious."

Community leader

Alvero has spent his life helping others.

He built a name for himself in the community through his work with Hope Blooms and LOVE Nova Scotia, an organization that provides youth programming.

Sarah MacLaren worked with Alvero Wiggins at LOVE Nova Scotia. She says fundraising to buy the Wiggins family a house has been the most fulfilling project of her life. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

When he found himself in need of help, Sarah MacLaren knew she had to do something.

She'd worked with him for years, and decided what he needed most was a safe place to live.

"Just the idea that housing is health care, and people's health outcomes are radically changed by how they are housed," she said.

Last spring, MacLaren started an online fundraiser, and rallied her contacts to chip in.

Thousands of dollars were contributed, but the timing couldn't have been worse. Halifax's housing market started to take off and bidding wars became the norm.

"It was at a point where I had begun to think, really, I have to acknowledge this may not happen."

That's when a stroke of good luck came her way, and MacLaren was introduced to Brenda MacKenzie.

Real estate agent Brenda MacKenzie immediately wanted to help the family after hearing their story. MacKenzie also needs a kidney transplant. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

About 15 years ago, MacKenzie, a real estate agent, started asking her colleagues to make contributions from their commissions to donate to different charities that support housing. 

When she started working at Engel and Volkers, she formally named the group A Home For Everyone, and formed a board of her peers.

"What better thing for people in our business to be able to contribute to, homelessness? It's a perfect fit."

Instant connection

A member of the group's board told MacKenzie about the family's story, and she instantly felt a connection.

MacKenzie is also on dialysis, and is anxiously awaiting her own phone call for a kidney transplant.

The board immediately agreed that this year's donations would go toward a house for the Wiggins family.

"It was just like, this is so strange. This is the perfect fit."

But they still needed to find an affordable, safe home to purchase.

'A unicorn house'

By chance, MacKenzie had a listing in suburban Halifax. With Halifax's hot market, it immediately had multiple offers, but they fell through.

MacKenzie saw that as a sign, and suggested the four-bedroom townhouse might be a good fit. There's a park and a pool just a few steps away. It was listed for just under $300,000. 

MacLaren and the Wiggins family made an offer. MacLaren said she was a wreck all day, until she got the call that the offer was accepted.

"This specific house was a miracle house, it was a unicorn house," MacLaren said. "It's probably the most beautiful thing I've been a part of in my lifetime."

Alaya Wiggins hugs Sarah MacLaren, as her father, Alvero, checks out their new home. The family will move in at the end on May. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

They're going through the closing process now, but the Wiggins are preparing to move in at the end of May. A Home For Everyone found a lawyer and inspector to volunteer their services through the process.

The society has also found volunteer trades people to upgrade the floors and countertops, and the society has a list of furniture donations they can have. 

Alvero took his four children to see the home for the first time last week. He said they instantly fell in love.

"It will mean everything, it will be a sense of security to live here, to have a home, to have a place to call home," he said. "We don't even live here and my kids love it here. It will be so joyful for them."

Fundraising continues

MacLaren said they still need to raise about $58,000 to bridge the gap and finish the deal, as well as provide the family with a small stipend to get them started with their expenses.

The family will have a small mortgage, comparable to what they currently pay in rent.

MacLaren and MacKenzie are already talking about helping a new family next year. MacKenzie is hoping real estate agents from other companies will join the effort. 

Alvero said he plans to pay it forward, and help others as soon as he can. But once he moves, he will finally be able to focus on his health.

"I don't even know how to find the words to thank everybody who has supported this dream."