To address a "pressing need" for low-income housing, work is underway to create a new Brandon-based, not-for-profit building organization.
Called Brandon Community Builders, the group hopes to pick up where Habitat for Humanity Brandon left off.
Orval Henderson, a member of the group’s steering committee, said they believed the need to "move on and create something new" that is "locally organized, locally controlled and locally managed, which wasn’t the case before."
The local Habitat chapter was disaffiliated last summer after 17 years of operation. The decision came from the organization’s national office after minimum operating standards were not being met. Since the Brandon office was established in 1995, 22 homes were built, along with 14 condos in Massey Manor.
"Since the … disaffiliation of this former organization, a public meeting was initiated … to explore and brainstorm what needed to happen to respond to the need for lower income citizens and affordable housing options here in Brandon," Henderson said.
About 30 people attended the group’s "visioning forum" earlier this month, representing several local organizations.
"These local people see the continuing housing needs of our lower income residents, a situation that must be confronted and rectified, their willingness and readiness to handle this challenge is very evident," Henderson said.
Henderson, along with Arnold Grambo, is spear-heading the initiative. Grambo spent 14 years at the helm of the local Habitat organization.
The group hopes to break sod for its first construction project this spring.
Henderson said they will actively seek partners in the not-for-profit sector, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, "realizing the greater economy of scale and thus helping us achieve ‘more with less’ in response to this building challenge."
Glen Kruck, manager of the CMHA’s Westman Region, said he is on board with what the Brandon Community Builders hope to accomplish.
"This is not the elephant in the room, this is the elephant sitting on your lap," Kruck said. "It’s a huge, huge, need in so many ways. Rental, ownership, you name it, prices are going through the roof incredibly."
Kruck said this is great for developers and those in property sales, but for people who are trying to rent or move into home ownership with limited income, "it’s pretty much impossible."
The main challenge for the Brandon Community Builders is finding land to build on.
"If there are any like-minded individuals out there who would love a tax receipt for the value of a vacant lot or two, we would sure like to talk to them," Kruck said. Interested property owners are asked to call 204-573-5357.
Henderson made a presentation to city council on Tuesday. He noted land that was donated by the city to the Habitat organization, on Percy and Franklin streets, has yet to be developed. They are hoping for an opportunity to build on that land.
"We want the national organization to return the land back to the city," he said. "This land at Percy and Franklin …has now been taken over by the national office of the former organization. And we have heard this land is being held for future use in Brandon for lower income housing ... but the need is now."
David Morris, project manager with Habitat for Humanity Canada, said the organization has every intention to develop the land in question.
"Those lots will be developed by Habitat Manitoba, so I think if the (Brandon Community Builders) group wants to get going, I think it might be more productive for the community if they found other opportunities to build other land," Morris said.
Morris said the timeline for that development is "still up in the air."
"Habitat is committed to providing affordable housing, so we most certainly would applaud any group that gets involved in the effort. We see it as a shared effort, a shared goal," he said.
"I would hope that some of the issues that led to Habitat Brandon having its affiliation rights revoked, the group manages to overcome those issues this time around."
Morris said record keeping was not up to standard, which is one of the issues that led to its closure.
"Habitat affiliates, independent affiliates operate as independent legal entities, and they are registered charitable organizations," Morris said. "So Canada Revenue Agency has increasingly strict guidelines on the standards that have to be followed, and I think we should all be happy for that. If record keeping is not what it should be, that creates issues."
Kate Marshall, the national director of marketing and communications with Habitat for Humanity Canada, wanted to stress that the local affiliate was in fact, "locally organized, locally controlled and locally managed."
"The only requirement is that to be part of the Habitat affiliate program, you do have to follow certain administrative protocols and procedures, also in order to fulfil your (Canadian Revenue Agency) regulations and needs," she said.
Marshall said the organization has not "closed the door" on Brandon.
"We have been actively working in the community over the last eight months to resolve and settle the affairs of the past affiliate, so that we can come back into the community as soon as possible," she said.