WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Claire Rolheiser, left, and Sr. Mary Clare Stack measure out insulation batting for a new Habitat house.
Donning hardhat, goggles and steel-toed boots, Catholic Pastoral Centre staff have been hard at work assisting Habitat for Humanity build affordable housing units for low-income Edmontonians.
Habitat is building 47 high quality duplexes for families with children in the Bergman community in northeast Edmonton.
Throughout May, Habitat held its first Interfaith Build to attract volunteers from the faith community to work on the project.
It worked so well it had at least five volunteers per day from various faith communities helping in all aspects of construction.
Archbishop Richard Smith gave staff at the Pastoral Centre a day off in May so they could volunteer in the project. More than 20 took the opportunity to do so.
Habitat started its Anderson Garden project in 2010 and plans to have it completed probably by September. They are simple two-storey duplexes with no garages, ranging in size from two to five bedrooms. The five-bedroom units have three bedrooms on the second floor and two in the basement.
Close to 30 units are already finished and moved into and the remainder will be ready later on this year. "We are planning to have over 80 families move into their homes this year," said Armand Mercier, Habitat's director of family services.
Julien Hammond, the archdiocese's director of catechesis and evangelization, was one of five archdiocesan employees volunteering on the project May 29.
In an interview at the site, Hammond said volunteering for Habitat is part of the commitment Edmonton religious leaders made over a year ago to support the City of Edmonton's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.
One portion of the commitment – to provide companionship and support to newly-housed people – is being organized by Catholic Social Services through the Welcome Home program.
"The other piece (of the faith leaders' commitment) was to support the building of actual housing for low-income and homeless people," Hammond said. "That's why over the course of the month the archbishop sent 20 staffers from the archdiocese to participate in this housing project."
In the interview, Hammond challenged all the Catholic parishes in the archdiocese to organize teams of people to come out and help out Habitat for Humanity in this and other projects.
All families that are moving into the housing complex at 41st Street and 123rd Avenue are hard-working families with kids, noted Mercier. "They have full-time jobs, but their income is not high enough for them to qualify for a mortgage or to save up for a down payment."
These families now own their homes and will be building equity rather than paying rent to a landlord. Each qualifying family has to work for 500 hours to help build their home "and that's their down payment," Mercier explained.
"Once they move in they'll have an interest-free mortgage," he added. Mortgage payments are never more than 25 per cent of a family's income.
Owning a house has a tremendous transformative effect on people's lives, especially the lives of their children, Mercier said. "They are proud of having their own place and the kids now can have friends for a sleepover."
Dianne Pelletier, a young single mother of one, moved into a three-bedroom unit March 14 last year. She was working in a house along with Catholic volunteers March 29 to complete her 500 hours.
"It's very relieving to know I'm not wasting my money on rent and to know that I am actually accomplishing something in my life," she said.
"I'm very appreciative toward all the volunteers who make this possible. It's a great opportunity for people such as myself to own a home and have a good opportunity in life."
Habitat for Humanity believes everybody has a right to a safe, affordable and decent place to live, a principle that is supported by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. More than 500 families applied for housing through Habitat last year.
"We are always taking applications because we are going to be building in south Edmonton next year and we are currently building in St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Sherwood Park, Leduc, Spruce Grove, Edson, Hinton and Whitecourt," Mercier said.
Sister Mary Clare Stack, manager of parish relations with Catholic Social Services, was at the site with other members of the parish relations' team putting insulation into some of the houses.
Her reason for volunteering is that support for the city's 10-year plan to end homelessness has to go beyond words. "Basically what we are saying is if we are supporting (the plan) we have to support it with some good sweat equity on our part; not just talk about it but do something concrete."
Stack said workshops are currently being offered for the faith community to look at the reality of homelessness and affordable housing and the various options in which they could become engaged. One workshop will be held June 14 at St. Alphonsus Church for interfaith communities in the northeast quadrant of the city.
Jacqueline Bass, coordinator of the Welcome Home program at CSS, was hard at work in the basement of one of the houses.
"I'm here because I want to help build a healthy community," she said. "I know how important it is for young families to have healthy environments and a home to live in that is decent for children."
Claire Rolheiser, another member of the Welcome Home team, volunteered because Habitat is an amazing organization and she is inspired by the work that they do. "I think everyone deserves a home and I'm happy to be part of it."
Doreen Bloos, dean of students at Newman Theological College, said she decided to volunteer because she has always being interested in the work of Habitat and in social justice issues.
"It's a good opportunity to participate," Bloos said of the Interfaith Build. "And the work is not that hard."