At long last, Housing Opportunity Partnership is back building homes in the city's West End.
"It's been a while," said HOP's president, Lori Thorsteinson. "I believe we finished our last home on McGee Street back in early 2013. Now that we finally have our funding from the provincial government, we're moving ahead at full speed. We have a lot of work to do -- three, possibly four infill homes. And we have until March 15, 2015, to complete them."
The latest beacon of West End renewal will be a two-storey home at 443 Arlington St. that will replace a derelict home that had become a community eyesore, said Zappia Group Realty's Frank Zappia.
"Someone in our office had actually listed it but no one wanted it, it was in such rough shape," said Zappia. "We thought it was a great location, so we put together an offer and ended up acquiring the home. We're thrilled that we were able to get it. It's going to be a perfect spot for us to remind people of our commitment to providing affordable housing in the area."
He added demand for affordable housing in the West End is still extremely high.
"There are a lot of people waiting for these homes (two-storey designs with full basements). Right now, there are over 40 people on the waiting list. It's all due to the affordability. Where else can you get a brand-new home for $189,900 to $209,900?" asked Zappia. "We get two to three calls per week -- and we don't advertise."
Zappia said at least two more homes are due to be built by the March 15 deadline.
"We also have infill homes slated to go in on Langside Street and Maryland Street, with potential for a fourth home," he said. "Not only do we provide people with affordable, high-quality housing, but we also help them put a five per cent down payment on the home (to a maximum of $9,000), plus we give them $1,500 to $2,000 to cover closing costs. The only stipulation is that they live in the home for 10 years."
Thorsteinson said the program has proven itself over the past 16 years.
"The program allows people who otherwise couldn't afford to buy a home to become homeowners," she said, adding HOP is approaching the milestone of 100 homes built in the city's West End.
"Residents are getting into a home that's basically built to R-2000 standards. It comes with a warranty, is low-maintenance, and with low utility bills." Thorsteinson said. "The long waiting list is a testimony to what we're doing. People see the value."
Sue-Ann Weitkowitz, owner of a HOP-built home since 2010, said the program made it possible to become a homeowner.
"If not for the program, I wouldn't be a homeowner," said Weitkowitz, a single parent. "I had looked at other 'affordable' homes in the area, but most of them were rundown or needed extensive renovations. Being able to get into a new home was a huge break for me. It's a great program. I'm a homeowner because of it."
With funding in question after March 15, 2015, Thorsteinson said she hopes stories such as Weitkowitz's will help the province see the lasting value HOP offers West End residents.
"If we don't get the funding it will take us out of being able to provide affordable housing to people on modest incomes," she said. "We operate as a lean, conservative board and aren't asking for a lot of funding. Hopefully we'll get it and be able to get to 100 homes and beyond."