Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Couple's dream dashed as Habitat office closes

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BRANDON -- A family is "fuming" mad and "heartbroken" after their Habitat for Humanity condo deal fell through.

Jim and Shannon North had been approved three years ago for one of the 14 condos being built in the Massey Manor affordable-housing project.

With much excitement at the prospect of finally owning their own home, the couple worked hard to put in well over the required 500 hours of sweat equity, which they completed in February 2010.

"I was happy... We have a son, James, who is five, and it's important that we have a nice place, that he has a bedroom," Shannon North said. "We thought somebody was on our side for once."

The Norths were faced with many delays, and ultimately the Habitat for Humanity Brandon office was closed last June after 17 years in operation.

The decision to disaffiliate the Brandon chapter came from the organization's national office, after minimum operating standards were not being met.

The future of the Habitat condos in Massey Manor was unclear, and several families were still waiting and hoping to move in.

"When you have a family, you want to have a permanent home," Jim North said. "We couldn't do it because we couldn't get money through the bank, because of our income. Habitat was the only way that we were able to do it, and they just shafted us."

David Morris, project manager with Habitat for Humanity Canada, has been in Brandon since July to help wind up operations.

"When I got involved, we sat down right away and took a look at what it would cost a family to own one of the units in Massey Manor," Morris said. "And the number is... beyond what anyone would consider affordable."

The other issue with the Habitat units is it was supposed to end up as a condominium arrangement. Massey Manor is a project undertaken through a unique partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Brandon Friendship Centre and Habitat for Humanity.

The CMHA has 30 units on the first two floors, including five emergency homeless shelters, while the Brandon Friendship Centre has 14 rent-subsidized units, located on the third floor.

Morris said from a governance point of view, a condominium agreement would be untenable.

"CMHA owns half the building, and Brandon Friendship Centre owns a quarter, and what it would mean is that the 14 homeowners of the fourth floor would each have less than two per cent voting rights in the condo agreement," Morris said.

Morris sat down with the five Habitat families in late July to explain the situation. "Not only will this not work for families needing affordable housing, the model actually doesn't work for Habitat, so that's what put us in the position that we're in," he said.

While it won't work for Habitat, Morris said the setup could work well for another organization that provides affordable-housing units. Morris said there are discussions happening with Manitoba Housing.

Morris said the goal is to eventually re-establish a chapter of Habitat in Brandon. Applications from families who have already put in hundreds of hours in sweat equity would be given top priority, he said.

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2012 A13

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