“Our first priority is the people and the families that have been accepted into the building. There are a lot of details to sort through and right now we can’t speculate on what’s going to happen, but our priority is the people.”
— Kate Marshall, national director of marketing and communications with Habitat for Humanity Canada, following news that the Brandon chapter was closing.
“When you have a family, you want to have a permanent home. We couldn’t do it because we couldn’t get money through the bank, because of our income. Habitat was the only way that we were able to do it and they just shafted us.”
— Jim North, who will not be able to move into the Massey Manor condo that he and his wife helped to build.
The hot mess that has been left behind out of the demise of the Brandon chapter of Habitat for Humanity has left five local families, who completed the “sweat equity” portion of their agreement with Habitat, without homes of their own.
In June, Habitat closed its doors in Brandon after the national office of the organization made the difficult decision to disaffiliate the local chapter, hinting that it was bad management practices — not ethical misconduct or personal safety issues — that caused its downfall.
That also left the organization’s 14 condo projects in the Massey Manor, an affordable housing project, in limbo.
Last week, the reasons behind the closure of the Brandon chapter became somewhat clearer after David Morris, a project manager with Habitat for Humanity Canada, told the Sun that Habitat’s agreement with the other partners in the Massey Project was simply untenable.
“When I got involved, we sat down right away and took a look at what it would cost a family to own one of the units in Massey Manor,” said Morris, who has been in Brandon since July to help wind up operations. “And the number is … beyond what anyone would consider ‘affordable.’”
The condos, which cost about $80,000 each to build, are part of a $7-million, 58-unit affordable housing complex — a project that also includes the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Brandon Friendship Centre.
As part of the agreement with future occupants, the Habitat units were set up as a condominium arrangement.
However, as the CMHA owns half the building and the Brandon Friendship Centre owns a quarter, Morris says that would leave the 14 homeowners of the fourth floor with less than two per cent voting rights in the condo agreement.
“Not only will this not work for families needing affordable housing, the model actually doesn’t work for Habitat, so that’s what put us in the position that we’re in,” he said.
The Sun reported on Saturday that negotiations are currently underway for the 14 Massey condos that were being built by Habitat volunteers and participating families to be taken over by Manitoba Housing. What a disastrous end to a Habitat project that was supposed to provide new residences for deserving Brandon families.
We’re all for thinking outside the box, but why in the world would Habitat Brandon have taken on such a project if it was such a poor fit under standards set by the national organization?
While Morris said the applications for those families who have already completed their required work hours will be given top priority for any future Habitat home in Brandon, and that they would “not be expected to put in any additional sweat equity,” that’s poor comfort for folks like Jim and Shannon North who are rightfully angry and disappointed.
The Norths had been approved three years ago for one of the 14 condos and completed their 500 required hours in February 2010. More than a year and a half later, and after several delays, they have nothing to show for it.
And while Habitat still owns property in Brandon, it will likely take years before the Winnipeg office that is currently handling operations in Westman — or some new local chapter — gets this mess sorted out and once again constructs stand-alone homes in this city.
The situation has tainted an otherwise successful downtown housing development and building reclamation, and slowed one avenue of attainable housing construction in this city.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 24, 2012