When Sonya Chesworth walks up the front walk of her Talbot Avenue home after a long day at work, she still sometimes can't quite believe it's really hers.
It's been almost two years since the longtime renter and her husband, William Anderson, purchased their three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-storey house for $154,900.
And the outgoing mother of two readily admits it never would have happened were it not for the Manitoba Tipi Mitawa (MTM) program, which provided their 15 per cent down payment as well as a monthly mortgage subsidy of about $400 in lieu of the rent subsidy they would have received if they were still renting.
"It was like winning the lottery," Chesworth said of their 2011 acceptance into the program. "We filled it (an application form) out, figuring we'd never hear from them. We just assumed it was all about who you know, but it wasn't like that at all."
Chesworth, who works full time as a bartender, said the best thing about owning their own home is that their two daughters won't have to be constantly changing schools and making new friends.
"I love that. That's something I never had (growing up). We moved almost yearly."
The MTM program is the brainchild of the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA), which created it, provides one-third of each family's down payment and co-manages the program along with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).
The program was set up to help aboriginal families purchase homes in Winnipeg. Since its launch in January 2008, it has helped 12 First Nations families buy homes in neighbourhoods such as Elmwood, Transcona and the North End.
The goal is to help 40 families. But to reach that target, program officials need to raise another $2 million in funding. The initial funding agreement with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corp., which provided two-thirds of the down payment for each of the first 12 families as well as their monthly mortgage subsidies, has expired, and the province hasn't decided whether to continue its support.
Harry DeLeeuw, chairman of the MREA's affordable-housing program, and Darcy Wood, co-chair of the MTM program's advisory board, said they're still hoping the province will renew its funding at some point.
"At this point, the government is a little strapped for cash," DeLeeuw said. "But we're hoping that as money comes available, they will see the benefits of (continuing to support) our program."
In the meantime, program officials will be approaching a variety of private-sector organizations, including banks, credit unions and local foundations, in hopes of securing their support. The hope is to have new funding in place before the end of this year.
DeLeeuw said the plan all along was to recruit more private-sector partners.
"We always wanted it to be a self-funding program and to get the private sector involved," he said.
To help attract private-sector funding, DeLeeuw said they're thinking of seeking charitable status for the program. That would enable donors to claim a tax deduction for their contribution.
But MREA and AMC officials are also hoping that when they explain the program's many benefits and its successes thus far, it will sell itself.
"MTM is a great example of what we all can do to support our First Nations people, as housing does much more than provide shelter," said AMC Grand Chief David Nepinak. "It contributes to the revitalization and renewal of communities and families while allowing them the opportunity to create pride in a place they can now call home."
DeLeeuw and Wood said program participants have told them they feel more secure in their future and their children's future now that they own their own home.
"That's a feeling of security and stability that money can't buy. It improves their quality of life, makes our neighbourhoods heathier and starts to change the urban landscape," DeLeeuw added.
He also noted that if they can help 40 families buy homes, that frees up 40 much-needed rental units.
DeLeeuw said they need to raise about $300,000 up front to help cover down payments for the remaining 28 families. The remaining $700,000 can be paid over 10 years, which is how long each family continues to receive monthly subsidies if they remain in their home.
He said MTM officials haven't set a deadline for getting the remaining 28 families into homes.
"But we would like to get it done as quickly as possible."
Chesworth said if MTM officials need help in spreading the word about the benefits of the program, she's available.
"I tell them any time they need somebody to be interviewed, I'll do it because it's such a great program."