Habitat for Humanity is accepting applications for their affordable apartments in Huntsville for just a few more weeks, aiming to fill their first-ever rental units early in the new year.
Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North broke ground on the Huntsville build at 11 Irene Street back in 2019 and occupancy was originally expected in March this year. After setbacks related to COVID and one of Habitat’s early contractors, the project timeline was pushed back. The organization is now looking to fill the four two-bedroom, one-bathroom units by March 1, 2022 at the latest. The lower two units are slated for applicants who require fully accessible homes while the upper two units will be home to women and families who are rebuilding their lives after experiencing domestic violence.
“This is just huge for Ontario Gateway North and potentially our communities because this is the first time that we are offering affordable rentals,” said Kimberley Woodcock, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North. “If all goes well, it stands to really help us expand our services and really start to make an impact on the volume of need that is out there.”
Muskoka has been facing a rental crisis for years with more than half of tenant households spending over 30 per cent of their income on accommodation. The Huntsville rentals are part of a pilot project known as Generation Homes, which aims to help address the need for rentals and supplement Habitat’s affordable home ownership services.
“When we are checking in with what the community needs, affordable rentals is really high on the list, ahead of affordable homeownership,” Woodcock said. “Secondly, it gives us access to people who are in transition and we’re going to be able to identify those who are becoming ready for ownership, so we can feed them through the process of building a brighter future through housing. They can do that for themselves with our help.”
By extending their reach to include rentals, Habitat is providing a desperately needed service while also expanding their mission to create affordable housing, she said. The need for quality rental units is often apparent to Habitat team members during the home visits they do for their home ownership services.
To understand the current living situation of their applicants while also getting to know them better, the Habitat team tours various homes across the region, so they know firsthand how many rental spaces are out of date and lack accessibility.
“They don’t meet safety requirements anymore and of course, we have an older demographic, so we see people struggling and literally limited in their own homes,” Woodcock said. “I feel really strongly that we need to incorporate universal accessibility at the minimum in every build we do, but we also want to make sure we’re building a combination that offers full accessibility for people who need it.”
Habitat will be accepting applications for the rental units for just a few more weeks. Locals interested in applying can start by taking the eligibility questionnaire on Habitat OGN’s website. Because this project is the first of its kind, the Habitat team is taking their time to select tenants that will be a good fit for the building and the surrounding neighbourhood.
Completing this build and working toward occupancy is a big win for the community, Woodcock said. The impact of the project always hits her when she stands in the apartments and sees how beautiful they are. The units don’t feel like the stereotypical idea of social housing, she said, so she hopes it will give people a sense of pride and inclusion instead of feeling isolated or ostracized due to their income.
“Integration is a big part of this build, dignity is a big part of this build,” Woodcock said. “It’s really ticking a box for a big community need and I think it’s really helping Habitat become more relevant in providing the housing that our communities are looking for.”