JILLIAN AUSTIN/BRANDON SUN
Habitat for Humanity Manitoba continues to make repairs on homes built by the former Brandon affiliate, including these duplexes on Percy Street.
Habitat for Humanity Manitoba has spent more than $250,000 on repairs to "poor quality" homes built by the former Habitat Brandon affiliate, according to the organization’s spokesperson.
Homeowner Natalie Burtnick says repairs that Habitat for Humanity Manitoba promised to make have not been completed. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Michelle Pereira, Habitat Manitoba’s vice-president of marketing and communications, said they identified 12 homes that needed to be brought up to code, and began the work in November 2013.
"We were in no obligation to do any improvements on these homes, but when we went and investigated the state of the homes, they were in such poor condition from a build perspective, that we decided in good faith that we would do repairs," Pereira said.
In the summer of 2012, after 17 years in operation, the HFH Brandon office was closed. The decision to disaffiliate the local affiliate came from the organization’s national office, which cited that "minimum operating standards were not being met."
During its time in operation, the Brandon affiliate built 22 homes.
The Manitoba affiliate now oversees all chapters in the province. Pereira said they "recruited people with the skill sets required" to manage a new Brandon chapter that became active in summer 2013.The new local chapter already has plans in place to build two new homes for low-income families by 2015.
Pereira said of the 12 homes needing repairs, seven have been completed. Four homes are expected to be complete in the next few weeks, while one home won’t be done until the end of June due to the major repairs needed.
"We basically have to remove all of the siding, put in proper insulation and then put the siding back up," she said.
The most significant problem in the homes, Pereira said, was the lack of insulation around windows.
"From a heating loss perspective that was probably most significant," she said. "They didn’t put any proper insulation in that home. That causes large heating bills."
They budgeted $300,000 for the repairs but will likely come in over budget. Pereira said the "inadequate" homes didn’t live up to the organization’s standards.
"When we build a home, we build a home to the top platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status … which means the home is affordable to maintain going forward."
Other repairs being made include replacing a heat recovery unit that had been installed backwards, replacing stairways to bring them up to code and bathroom repairs.
Arnold Grambo, who spent 14 years running the local Habitat affiliate, takes issue with the accusations of inadequate construction.
"We met the codes exactly the same as any other builders," he said. "We made certain they exceeded codes in many cases so the people would have even lower heat bills."
As for the lack of insulation claim, Grambo said "there should be no evidence of that."
Grambo is now involved with a new non-profit group called Brandon Community Builders Inc., which has a goal of helping low-income families obtain affordable housing through volunteer building projects.
Grambo said the funds used by Habitat Manitoba to go back and make repairs could have been used for "better purposes."
"I just can’t believe … that they’re spending money that way," he said. "After people own their house, after they’ve started to pay the mortgage and so on, well anything that breaks is their responsibility."
One local Habitat homeowner, Natalie Burtnick, says she is not pleased with the construction process. Repairs that the organization promised to make have not been completed, she says.
"They came, made a mess of our house and they left," said Burtnick, a mother of four who moved into the Habitat home eight years ago.
Burtnick said she now has a "half-finished house" and is embarrassed to have guests over. She said the walls of her home still need to be painted, as she is left with white spots where workers filled holes and scrapes. The home still needs baseboards replaced as well as fixing door frames. She was also promised a new, larger bath tub.
Pereira said the organization has had a "difficult" time dealing with Burtnick.
"We’ve already spent over $30,000 repairing her home and the majority being neglect of the home," she said.
Pereira said they painted Burtnick’s home and she told them it was an inadequate job, so they repatched some areas and told Burtnick they would buy the paint for her to paint the walls herself.
"All of this work is done by professionals," Pereira added.
The other issue is that construction crews were having difficulty getting in Burtnick’s home to do the work, Pereira said.
"There are times that we’ve tried to get back in and weren’t allowed access to the home."
Burtnick said she was "done with them messing up," and wanted to be home while work was being completed.
Pereira stressed that once Habitat sells a home to a partner family, it is their home and their responsibility to keep up with basic maintenance.
"We’re not the landlord anymore, and the challenge with some partner families is that they’re not used to having the pride of ownership," she said. "If something breaks, you’re the homeowner and you need to fix it. If it’s under warranty, we’ll cover it, but …if it’s just neglect, those are their things to repair."
Burtnick says as a single mother she hasn’t had the means or the time to do some of the household maintenance.
"I said I can’t paint my own house, I just don’t have the time to do it," she said. "I just wanted to be treated like everybody else."
Burtnick said all she wants is for Habitat to "fix what they said they were going to fix."
"I'm a mother of four children who can’t afford to continue what they left," she said.
Burtnick was upset when she received an email on Friday from a Habitat official saying, "Your file is now closed and all repairs are your responsibility."
Other Habitat homeowners were pleased with the repairs and the construction process.
"They’re trying to rectify all of the things that weren’t done right in the beginning," said Melodi Barnett, who moved into her home on Percy Street about nine years ago.
Barnett’s cupboards, which she says were poorly built, were replaced. Caulking in the holes turned yellow and doors were falling off, she said. The heat recovery unit was replaced, as was her staircase.
"I thank God every day that Habitat Manitoba took over and is actually repairing some of those things that didn’t meet code because … it’s very challenging, I’m a single mom and I was trying to raise three kids by myself," she said.
Barnett said she understands if construction crews take a little longer than expected, as there are many projects on the go and not many people doing the work.
She added that over the years, she has done her own upgrades to the property.
"I fixed my front door, painted my front door, I’m working a little bit every month ... ever since I bought my house," she said. "That’s what you do when you buy a house."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 31, 2014