Habitat for Humanity unveils its first homes in Caledon

Habitat for Humanity has unveiled its first completed project in Caledon. The row of 10 townhouses will be home to a total of 17 parents and 31 children from lower-income backgrounds.

Habitat for Humanity has plans to build 350 new homes over the next 5 to 7 years

Anita Sekhon, second from the left, and her three children were one of 10 families selected for the new property. Habitat for Humanity says more than 1,000 people expressed interest in the homes. (Habitat for Humanity)

In late 2017, Anita Sekhon was in her Brampton apartment when a commercial for Habitat for Humanity flashed across the TV screen.

To the 49-year-old single mother of three, the offer seemed too good to be true: home ownership on a fixed, interest-free mortgage, and a down payment made in volunteer hours, not cash.

She remembers exchanging a knowing look with her daughter just after the ad aired.

"She's like, 'Mom, we should try that,'" Sekhon remembered. "And I'm like, 'Oh, I don't know, we might not get in.'"

Eight months later, Sekhon's family has moved into a brand new, $617,000 townhouse in Caledon. They were chosen over more than 1,000 other families who expressed interest in the properties.

"I love it; we love it; the kids love it," she said. "It feels like home."

After a week in the new home, Sekhon says she's already seen a major change in her kids, aged 15, 16 and 20. In the family's old apartment and neighbourhood, Sekhon said she often worried about violence, drugs and crime.

"I know the safety is there," she said of her new house and neighbourhood. "The environment is totally different from where we came from."

The houses on Kennedy Road, seen here nearing completion, are worth $650,000 on average. (Habitat for Humanity)

A first in Caledon

The 10 freehold townhouses are the first properties built by Habitat for Humanity in Caledon.

On Wednesday, the organization will host a dedication ceremony to commemorate the homes and their new residents, which include 17 parents and 31 children.

For many of the families, the prospect of home ownership may have seemed like an impossible dream not long ago.

"A lot of working, lower-income families, they see the headlines about how expensive housing is and they don't imagine that they themselves could own a home," said Ene Underwood, CEO of Habitat for Humanity in the Greater Toronto Area.

Underwood insists that her organization's model represents a "hand up" to those families, not a hand out.

'It has never been more challenging for lower-income households to find safe, decent housing in Toronto,' says Ene Underwood, CEO of Habitat for Humanity in the Greater Toronto Area. (Twitter)

Through partnerships with local governments and developers, Habitat for Humanity provides mortgages pegged at 30 per cent of an applicant's income. They also waive the standard down payment if the person completes 500 hours of volunteering.

The organization calls those hours "sweat equity," and they're most often spent helping to build homes for the program.

"The hardest-working members of the partnership are the families themselves," Underwood said.

Sekhon, who works as an assistant supervisor at a bank, spent most of her volunteer hours building another set of homes in Brampton, in addition to one week at her own property.

"It was amazing that I got to build stuff in my own home," she said. "I don't think I'll move from there."

Hundreds of new homes to be built

Habitat for Humanity says it expects to build more than 350 homes around the the GTA over the next five to seven years.

Underwood says those new builds will have an outsize effect on the region's housing supply, since the new residents usually free up their old rental units by moving.

Habitat for Humanity can also maintain equity in the homes after the 20-year mortgage period, which they use to fund other builds.

"We can play a very significant role because of this ripple effect," Underwood said.

The organization also has plans to meet with Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government to discuss a greater role in the province's affordable housing strategy.