Thanks to a program that helps low-income families become homeowners, the McKays will have a home of their own in time for the holidays.
"It’s like winning the lottery," Shelley McKay said on Wednesday as she received the keys to her new house from Mayor Shari Decter Hirst who was dressed as Santa Claus.
Solomon and Shelley McKay and their two sons will move into Brandon’s first Solutions to End Poverty Permanently (STEPP) house.
The new home takes the sting out of the fact that the McKays were accepted, and then rejected, from the Massey Manor affordable housing project.
They were denied a suite after they put in more than the required 500 hours of "sweat equity," which included cleaning the work site and drywalling.
Habitat for Humanity Brandon was an initial partner in the Massey building project, but the office closed in June and Habitat Humanity Canada stepped in.
The McKays say that Habitat Humanity Canada then told them that project costs had risen, so the cost of the units went up. As a result, the family wouldn’t be able to afford a Massey building condo.
"That was the worst day of my life," Shelley recalled.
But within six months, things turned around after a friend told them of STEPP.
STEPP is a project launched by the Canadian Mental Health Association with the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation’s Brandon Energy Efficiency Program.
The first house, built on Rosser Avenue East, was officially completed in July.
The value for the energy-efficient home is $210,000.
But the McKays will only have to pay a $150,000 mortgage, while CMHA will hold a no-payment and no-interest mortgage for the remaining $60,000.
Under STEPP, families don’t need to make a cash down payment as it’s already provided in the equity of the home.
When the McKays sell the house, they’ll pay CMHA the full second mortgage plus a portion of any money made above the original $210,000 value. Those funds are deposited into a fund which is used to build more STEPP homes. Hence, any donations made to the program will be reused.
The project was made possible by numerous donors and partners that helped keep construction costs low and the home affordable.
Among them was the city which donated the land for the McKays’ home.
The province kicked in a $30,000 grant which also helped reduce the construction cost.
The Brandon Affordable Housing Corp., Brandon Area Community Foundation and Westoba Credit Union also provided grants.
The house was designed by design and drafting students at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School.
It was built by BEEP participants. That program provides construction training to unskilled labourers who seek employment in the labour force.
The McKays say that they wouldn’t be able to afford their own home if it weren’t for STEPP.
The family depends on Solomon’s cleaning job and he makes less than $30,000 a year. They wouldn’t be able to save for a down payment on a home.
The McKays have rented a small, north-end home for the last four years.
The McKay boys, 18-year-old Jason and 13-year-old Ben, share the only bedroom and their parents sleep in the living room.
Now, they own a new three-bedroom, 750-square-foot home with a developed basement.
In the past, the family would celebrate Christmas at the home of Shelley’s mom. This year, the McKays intend to host relatives.
"To share this with them is unbelievable," Shelley said.
The family will move into the new house on Sunday.
Caldwell defends gov’t bill to address affordable housing
Wednesday’s celebration for Brandon’s first STEPP home took a political turn when a Brandon MLA defended a controversial bill.
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell took a moment during the gathering to defend Bill 7, which recently came under fire in Brandon.
The bill — which would give municipalities the power to encourage or require developers to include affordable housing in new residential developments — recently received first reading in the legislature.
"That bill is going to pass, we are adamant and firm in providing a legal framework in this province mandating affordable and low-income housing," Caldwell said.
"We do not, and are not, interested in creating low-income ghettos or high-income enclaves."
Bill 7 was criticized earlier this month by city Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) who suggested the province was imposing rules that would discourage business in the province.
At its upcoming meeting on Monday, council will consider whether it will ask the province to withdraw the bill and renew consultations.
That would include consultations with Manitoba and Brandon developers.
J&G Homes president Jared Jacobson has also weighed in on Bill 7, questioning why it would be the private sector’s responsibility to provide affordable housing.
He, too, called for consultation with developers.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst was quoted in a provincial press release as being in support of the bill.
Her use of "we" in her statement rankled McCrae, who objected to Decter Hirst speaking on behalf of the entire council.
Caldwell said the criticism prompted him to defend the bill and the NDP approach to affordable housing during Wednesday’s ceremony.
He said the province is a strong supporter of partners involved in creating affordable housing such as Renaissance Brandon, the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corp. and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
"Our commitment, as long as we are in office, is to continue to invest in affordable housing in the city of Brandon," Caldwell said.
» Brandon Sun