JILLIAN AUSTIN/BRANDON SUN
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst gets a tour of the third STEPP home in Brandon from Jayda Desjarlais (centre) and her sister Rheanna on Monday.
Sisters Jayda and Rheanna Desjarlais proudly gave Brandon’s mayor the grand tour of their new home — showing her everything from the fireplace to their doll house.
But the most exciting feature for the young girls is the fact that they finally have their own rooms.
"When we first moved in … they’d just sit in their room by themselves, Jayda especially," said their mother, Rhonda McKinnon. "She’d be in her room every evening just sitting there, because she could."
The sisters are also excited about the big back yard.
"There’s a nice bike path that me and Rheanna can go riding our bikes on or rollerblading," Jayda said.
McKinnon, along with her common-law husband P.J. Desjarlais, Jayda, 10, and Rheanna, 8, moved into the third STEPP (Solutions to End Poverty Permanently) home at the beginning of April.
The family of four was chosen out of many applicants for the STEPP program, which gives low-income families the opportunity to become first-time homeowners by eliminating common barriers, including high market prices and the ability to save for a down payment.
McKinnon said the family was thrilled to hear they were chosen to be the owners of the new bungalow on Rosser Avenue East.
"We would never be able to save for a down payment," McKinnon said. "Paying rent and then saving, it doesn’t happen."
McKinnon and Desjarlais have been together for 14 years, and renting for the entire time. McKinnon is a health care aide at the Brandon hospital, while Desjarlais works at Mar-Dee Enterprises. Earlier this year they were told that the rent on their townhouse would be going up, which is what pushed McKinnon to try to make a change.
"I thought, ‘we need to do something about this,’" she said. "We’re paying rent when we could be paying mortgage if we could get approved."
The three-bedroom home has a fully finished basement, two full bathrooms, all new appliances and an outdoor shed in the backyard. The home’s appraised value is $242,500, but the purchase price was $168,500.
"It’s amazing … it just opened so many doors," McKinnon said. "To be able to own our own house, that’s incredible. We probably wouldn’t have been doing it for many years, by the time you get that down payment."
The third STEPP house is built in partnership with the City of Brandon, the province, Canadian Mental Health Association Westman Region, Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp. and the Brandon Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP).
Lowered STEPP home purchase prices are made possible by donated residential lots by the city, a provincial grant, as well as grants from other sources, and 90 per cent of the construction labour is provided through BEEP as an employment training site.
Arrangements are also made with local financial institutions to enable first-time homebuyers to qualify for a mortgage without having to save for a down payment. The financial institution registers a first mortgage on the property at 100 per cent of the value and then lends out at approximately 70 per cent.
On Monday, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst stopped by the third STEPP home with Glen Kruck, Canadian Mental Health Association regional director, to drop off a bouquet of flowers for the family and take a tour of the new home.
"When you see how excited the kids are to get their own bedroom and not have to share, when they talk about walking to school and the neighbourhood, about being able to play outside, these are things that as a mother, it really resonates," Decter Hirst said.
The mayor said one of the best features of the STEPP program is that it is sustainable.
"You build homes and then that continues to feed income into it so you can build more homes," she said. "This is a slow and steady way to look at housing for a lot of families in Brandon that really do need thinking outside the box."
Kruck said any grant of land or money contribution to the program gets continually re-spent, which lowers the cost of the house for the family.
"At some point in time when they sell the house, all that money gets paid for from the sale of the house, so it comes back into the program and that continues forever," he said. "That’s the beautiful part about the sustainability of this program."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 29, 2014