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A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out - H4H Interview

November 22, 2023


How Habitat for Humanity – with partners like GNI – is helping Ontarians get into safe, affordable homes.

In a 2022 survey, Habitat for Humanity Canada found that 40% of Canadians are concerned about paying their rent or mortgage in the next 12 months. Renters are significantly more worried about their ability to pay their monthly costs than homeowners. And a whopping 4 out of 5 Canadians are uneasy about having less to spend on food, transportation and debt payments due to housing costs.

In this affordability crisis, Habitat for Humanity is making a real difference. GNI is proud to be one of the many partners that helps Habitat do the great work they do. Our Woodstock, Ontario branch works closely with Habitat for Humanity, Heartland Ontario, a location that has built an incredible 117 homes over the last 30 years.

Habitat in a nutshell

Habitat for Humanity provides safe, affordable housing for families who, without help, are unable to access safe, affordable housing.

“We help them get into a home that's theirs – one they know can be theirs forever,” says Melissa Derbyshire, Director of Fund Development, H4H Heartland. “Having a sustainable, safe and decent place to live is so important for well-being, for childhood development, and for helping future generations.”

The homes have real, long-term impact. Recently, the folks at H4H Heartland had a key ceremony with a happy family of four:

“Many families aren’t in a position to be approved to purchase a home through the traditional mortgage system.” says Joe Scrocco, Build Service Director for H4H Heartland. “So now instead of paying outrageous rent, we worked together to get her family into a home where she's actually paying a mortgage – and building equity for her and her kids.”

Pictured: A Great Northern Insulation employee installs underslab spray foam insulation at a Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario build in London, Ontario.

Who can qualify for a Habitat home?

Joe Scrocco admits there are some misperceptions about who gets these homes: they aren’t built for people who don't work or are on social assistance. H4H homes aren’t free. To qualify, homeowners must have a certain level of household income so they can pay a mortgage (calculated to be up to 30% of their total income). For many who simply can't come up with a down payment in this market, it's a vital hand up into homeownership.

Families must also put in 500 volunteer hours with Habitat for Humanity to qualify. That can mean helping on the build, working in a ReStore, or getting involved with other initiatives that support the organization.

Demand is huge

In this economic climate, it's no surprise that Habitat for Humanity is flooded with requests for support. Lately, demand has been so intense that they have had to stop accepting applications and focus on families currently living in unsafe, unhealthy and overcrowded conditions.

High prices have also forced them to build different types of homes. “With the value of properties and vacant land going through the roof, we've had to pivot,” says Joe Scrocco. “Instead of building single family homes, we are looking at higher density semis, triplexes, 5-plexes and stackable townhomes where we can meet the needs of more families with one parcel of land and one building envelope.”

How Habitat for Humanity does what it does

Habitat reduces their cost to build in a number of ways:

  1. Through donations and discounts on time and materials from builders, contractors and subtrades.
  2.  With a heavy reliance on volunteers – on the last home H4H Heartland built, volunteers put in almost 5,000 hours.
  3. Hosting corporate team building events. Companies pay to have their teams volunteer on builds, so Habitat gets donations, people hours – and more advocates for the program.
  4. Via support from developers. Recently, Habitat GTA partnered with Nordic Condos to make 1-bed and 1-bed plus units available through the Habitat HomeStart Program. This program marks the first time Habitat is offering affordable homes to individuals and couples.

How can you help with Habitat for Humanity families? Shop, donate or volunteer!

Whether you’re a company or an individual, you can make a difference in a number of ways. Volunteer your time or donate money or building supplies. You can also shop, donate or volunteer at Habitat for Humanity ReStores: 100% of profits go to H4H operations.

“There are ReStores all across Ontario, and you can help a lot by simply being a customer,” says Joe Scrocco.  “They have new windows and doors, caulking, even entire kitchens. If you are renovating your home, you can actually donate your old kitchen to our salvage program. Just call us and we’ll send out volunteers to remove your kitchen and bring it back to one of our stores.”

Pictured: Great Northern Insulation on site for a 3D-printed concrete build with Habitat for Humanity near Windsor, Ontario.

GNI: helping Habitat build hope

In addition to encouraging our employees to take part in volunteer days, Great Northern negotiates special pricing on insulation materials, and offers discounted or volunteer installation labor, technical support and volunteer time for site management on Habitat builds.

“GNI has worked with Habitat for Humanity since 2015, quoting over 150 scopes of work for their locations in Ontario,” says Rick Bartel, GM Southwestern Ontario Operations, GNI. “Not every one of those quotes has turned into a job, but we have worked alongside Habitat for Humanity branches in Ontario on dozens of builds – and we look forward to assisting with many more.”

Working with Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits to produce affordable housing for Canadians ties directly into GNI’s Mission Statement: “We aim to provide homeowners and builders with the products and services they need to help reduce their carbon footprint and build safer, more energy-efficient and sustainable communities.”

We encourage builders, product manufacturers, and contractors to learn more about how they can partner with Habitat for Humanity to help create safe, sustainable communities in their area. Looking for a way to support Habitat for Humanity?

See how you can help here.

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