Brian Brake

Habitat for Humanity faces uncertain future

Family, warmth, heart and home — they all come together at Christmas. And through the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, this time next year more Central Alberta families will be able to celebrate the season in their very own affordable homes.

Family, warmth, heart and home — they all come together at Christmas.

And through the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, this time next year more Central Alberta families will be able to celebrate the season in their very own affordable homes.

Earlier this week, four Lacombe families learned they had been chosen for a Habitat home.

Unfortunately, the local nonprofit organization, which builds homes for low-income working families, is not so certain about what the future holds.

Brian Brake, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity Red Deer Region Society, said Wednesday that seven years of funding from the provincial government ended this year.

The Progressive Conservative government budget in early 2015 eliminated the Habitat funding, which amounted to about $10 million a year across the province.

It has not been reinstated by the new NDP government.

The funding was used to help with construction or to purchase land. The homes are built with a lot of skilled and unskilled volunteer labour. The home owners must commit to put in 500 hours of volunteer work into the construction or in the local community.

Across Alberta, about 700 Habitat homes (100 a year) have been built with the help of the provincial funding, Brake said.

Habitat for Humanity Red Deer has built 29 homes over the years: 22 in Red Deer, two in Delburne, one in Three Hills and now four in Lacombe.

Prior to the government funding, they managed to build only about one or two homes a year in Central Alberta, Brake said. In March they opened three new units in Red Deer and have the four underway in Lacombe.

While the four families in Lacombe will get one of the units (two duplexes) now being built, there were another 17 families turned away. In Red Deer there’s a list of 160 families wanting Habitat housing, said Brake.

The Lacombe houses are unique in that the City of Lacombe partnered for the first time with Habitat, actually providing the funds through its housing strategy plan to purchase the lots — a value of $300,000.

Without that assistance, the homes could not have been built, said Brake. Construction began in October and they will be finished in June.

So far over 2,000 hours of volunteer labour have been contributed to the Lacombe houses.

The society will have used up all its own discretionary funding built up over years when the four homes are completed.

“I’m broke,” said Brake.

For every $100,000 the province committed to Habitat, it was able to giving back to the community a home that was worth about $280,000, he said.

The program for 2016 is essentially at a standstill until something changes.

But Brake is not giving up.

Along with other Habitat representatives, he has been in discussion with the Minister of Finance and with Central Alberta MLAs, asking the government to reinstate funding.

The response from the province has been positive, but still no funds have been committed to Habitat, he said.

“Because of the downturn in the economy, the demand is greater now than it’s ever been,” Brake said.

“There is no better way to leverage scarce money in hard times than to go through an organization like ours where we empower volunteers and local businesses to all come together,” Brake said.

“So for the $90,000 (the province) puts in, as long as the community’s got a need, and I can walk in with that $90,000 and a core of volunteers and donors, how better to spend your money in tough times?”

“The sky is the limit,” if Habitat gets provincial funding in the spring budget, said Brake.

If it doesn’t, he’ll be out “beating on doors and begging to put one or two houses together while we get the government engaged again.”

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