In its 17 years of operation, the former Brandon chapter of Habitat for Humanity successfully completed construction of 22 homes in this city to aid low-income residents who couldn’t afford to purchase a home on their own.
These homes have become a lasting reminder of the good work that can be accomplished when civic-minded citizens come together to fill a need within their community. It is a record for which those associated with the former Brandon chapter should be proud.
But that pride should come with a caveat.
Over the last several months, the Sun has reported on what has been happening with the 14 condos that the Brandon chapter constructed in Massey Manor as part of a three-way project in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Brandon Friendship Centre. Those condos are now at the heart of a battle over a $70,000 bill for shared projects that, according to the CMHA, Habitat for Humanity Canada must pay, among other contractor payments.
The local Habitat chapter was disaffiliated last summer, after the organization’s national office found that minimum operating standards were not being met. In the wake of the disaffiliation, the national office has taken control of local Habitat operations, including the 14 condos in Massey Manor.
Though the national Habitat group has already inked a deal to sell the condos to Manitoba Housing, the CMHA has vowed to block the deal until it has been given assurances that the bills will be paid by Habitat.
“The local group paid their bills,” CMHA manager Glen Kruck recently told the Sun. “Habitat Canada has come in and tried to weasel out of every deal and agreement. They won’t accept any verbal agreement we had with the local Habitat people.”
From the perspective of Habitat’s national office, the Massey project was taken up by the three organizations without a partnership agreement in place, what Habitat for Humanity project manager David Morris called a “basic condition” for public funding of the project. He said Habitat Canada sees little proof to substantiate the bills that the CMHA says it is on the hook for.
As we have noted before on this page, when a large and well-established organization like Habitat for Humanity decides to disaffiliate a community chapter — and we note that the Brandon chapter is the only one to have that dubious claim — it should not be taken lightly.
Morris has told the Sun that the Brandon chapter’s record keeping was not up to standard, which is one of the issues that led to its closure. The apparent lack of a partnership agreement would seem to bolster that claim.
Since that closure, however, several people who were involved in the disaffiliated Brandon Habitat group —including Arnold Grambo who spent 14 years at the helm of the local organization — have decided not to wait for a Habitat resurgence in Brandon, and instead have created something called Brandon Community Builders, to pick up where Habitat for Humanity Brandon left off.
Spearheaded by Grambo and steering committee member Orval Henderson, the BCB informed city council last Tuesday that it wants the national Habitat for Humanity organization to return land on Percy and Franklin streets that was donated by the city to the previous Brandon Habitat organization for future housing construction.
While we praise the civic spirit shown by those involved in the new Brandon Community Builders group, we advise the city not throw caution to the wind and demand the national Habitat for Humanity organization hand back the land in question. Habitat’s national office says it is still committed to developing the land, and to rebuilding the Habitat brand in Brandon.
There is no reason the fledgling BCB cannot find other land to develop in this city and thereby prove its worth.
But the city would be remiss to simply close the door on Habitat for Humanity’s return to this community, and in our opinion, Habitat should be given every opportunity to do just that — especially in light of the reasons given for the demise of the local chapter.