Applications officially open for Habitat duplex project in Belleville

Habitat for Humanity Prince Edward-Hastings members were in a celebratory mood on Thursday in Belleville.

Board chair Kathryn Brown, CEO Hazzem Koudsi, and other staff were joined by local political dignitaries at the ReStore to open the application process for Habitat’s duplex project at 639 Sidney St East.

Two families will be chosen to take ownership of these spaces and start a brand-new life.

Part of the criteria for choosing families, Brown explained, is to have them go through a “fairly rigorous” financial process to make sure that they have the right income and ensure their debt service ratios are manageable, while assessing their needs.

“We want to make sure that it’s something within their means, and something that’s safe and healthy when they’re not living in ideal conditions,” she said.

Through new technology in the form of local entrepreneur Chad Guzewicz’s company “VeriFast,” the application process is being streamlined to the point where Brown said it’s taking ‘minutes’ as opposed to months like it was before.

This provides opportunities for middle-class families who pay market rent in a rental unit to save for a down payment.

“With inflation the way it’s been since the pandemic over the last year, people are struggling to put food on the table and pay that rent. If we can move them where it’s more financially feasible for them to own a home and build equity into it, then that’s really what we’re targeting,” Brown added.

“It’s not just creating affordable housing. It’s creating homeownership opportunities where people can settle in and build a solid financial future for their families.”

That affordability aspect is crucial to make small steps toward widespread home affordability in the Quinte region, Koudsi noted.

“To make it affordable, we have to keep the costs low, the cost of constructions have to be low so that we can sustain the 0-per cent down and the 0% interest over the life of the mortgage,” he said.

In order to set families up for long-term success, Koudsi explained that Habitat puts the starting ‘debt-to-equity’ ratio at 25-per cent, meaning they have to be able to handle 25-per cent of their income to gain their mortgage.

When taxes and other payments and debts are taken on, Koudsi said they may have to a maximum of somewhere between 35 to 40-per cent.

“We don’t want to go above 40-per cent, because then you start to set families up for potential failure and long-term hardships.”

“We set parameters around what they can afford to pay, and how we can get that home and create equity for them within the first 20 years,” Brown added.

Families that are eligible for the homes will put in 500 volunteer (formerly ‘sweat equity’) hours by working on their own homes or working at the ReStore before their mortgage is assigned.

The City of Belleville generously donated this plot of land to Habitat for Humanity Prince Edward-Hastings. Geertsma Homes is being tasked with the construction.

Habitat received a $74,500 “Resilient Funding grant” from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for fundraising and marketing the project, and volunteer board member Frank Henry was on hand to provide his vocal support.

Belleville mayor Neil Ellis and Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith also both hit on the importance of the project for the betterment of the city’s health and growth.