Volunteers give over 4,000 hours to Roblin build
While they were supposed to receive the keys to their Habitat For Humanity-built house Thursday, James and Rachel Mathias felt at home on their Cooks Road property near Roblin long ago.
The couple and their teenage boys Dylan and Joseph spent months raising the three-bedroom house side-by-side with agency staff and volunteers in a build that took more than 4,000 collective hours.
James said the experience made home ownership more meaningful.
“There’s a feeling of self satisfaction. A part of you goes into this house when you build it. It’s going to feel real good when we can move our furniture in here and start to live in it,” he said. “It is already home and it has been for a few months… We put our time in. It feels like ours.”
With pride, they opened the door last night to a number of the people who stood by their side to offer hours of construction, meal preparation, or fundraising as Habitat For Humanity Kingston Limestone Region threw a home dedication, or “key ceremony,” to welcome the new homeowners.
“We wouldn’t have this house if it was not for all of them,” Rachel said, before pointing at a large picture window that takes up much of the front wall in her new living room.
“Above that window, under the wall that you can no longer see, there’s something that we wrote and it’s ‘Welcome to the home that the love of a community has raised.'”
The moment was a long time coming. Shortly after approval, James was set to head to Northern Ontario for four months as a fishing guide. Rachel took it upon herself to find the perfect property on a quiet, dead-end street she knew her husband would love. She and the boys started working during the summer. James also picked up and helped when he was home to visit, then joined the crew when he got home in August.
“It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s well worth it to finally put roots somewhere you can call home,” he said. “Habitat, the volunteers, and everybody who is part of this project made that happen for our family.”
He said he was amazed by the amount of volunteers who helped, many whom the family hadn’t yet met. There were local people and others coming from a fair distance, but they were there regularly to serve.
“That really took me by surprise,” James said.
Habitat’s Kingston Limestone chief executive officer Susan Zambonin fought back tears as she welcomed the Mathias family to the home, which she hopes they’ll be able to occupy within a couple weeks once the heating system is active.
“When I got here — as tired as I was and just standing around — once I everybody started talking I felt uplifted,” she said. “I just cried. It’s another family that has a home. It feels great, it really does. It means all the hours you put in, all the sleepless nights worrying about something is for a reason: Somebody now has a home.”
Zambonin said the Mathias family was a perfect fit for the agency’s second home in the Napanee area. They immediately started working on “sweat equity,” a 500-hour pledge as part of their mortgage deal, and they attended every event Habitat asked them to. They’re also both employed and eager to make it work.
According to Zambonin, with more families struggling to find affordable housing, interest has been up in Habitat homes, but few people meet the criteria. Contrary to what some may believe, they do have to buy the house and pay for it.
“It’s a small band of people who are above social housing, but below market housing,” she said.
Participating families must not qualify for a conventional mortgage and must demonstrate they are living in substandard housing, be it accommodations that are too small, in disrepair, or cost too much compared to their income.
Rachel said they made a decision to move to Napanee from Toronto about five years ago. They felt they couldn’t get into the housing market there. They continued to rent in Napanee, but even in this area rents have soared and home ownership seemed a bit out of reach.
“You get stuck in that vicious rent cycle,” she said. “A friend of ours suggested we apply. When she said that, we thought ‘Why?’ because we thought it was free houses for poor people. We found out it’s not about that, it’s completely different.”
What it is, simply, is a contract for a mortgage with no down payment and zero interest at a term that geared to income.
Zambonin said the success rate is not 100 per cent, but it’s very high. For that reason, Habitat’s four-year strategic plan plan calls for three builds in Kingston and surrounding areas each year with a hope of doing more if lands are donated. She is hopeful the Napanee area will accommodate one of those builds each year.
Board chair Doug Arrand is enthused about that idea. Through work on the Mathias house and a previous project a year ago on King Street, he said the community has demonstrated it is a willing partner.
“Our board, since our territory was expanded to include Greater Napanee, have been overwhelmed by the volunteers and the enthusiasm of the folks in the Napanee area. We couldn’t be more thankful,” he said as he welcomed Mayor Gord Schermerhorn and Valerie Watts, a representative of MP Mike Bossio to offer a welcoming greeting.
Examples of that support were also present. Rev. Paul DeMerchant of Roblin Wesleyan Church offered a blessing. A team from the church did much of the food preparation for the build. Members of the Napanee Heritage Quilters Guild and the Farmhouse Community Quilters gave each member of the family a warm, lovingly made blanket.
Construction manager Kyle Botting took pride in seeing his community rally around a deserving family. While he spent many 12-hour days on site ensuring things were done properly, he was grateful for the outpouring of generosity surrounding the project.
“We’ve had a tremendously good group of people,” he said. “We made some great friends throughout this project.”
Botting said those volunteers made everything happen and the result is “a great little home.”
He concluded “I think it’s going to be terrific for you guys.”
The family was presented with a special wooden key, crafted through Habitat’s own woodworking program. In time, it will become a reminder of something truly special that happened as they found their home. The next set of memories are theirs to make. James can’t wait.
“The boys are ecstatic and we’re ecstatic.”