Two Marathon, Ontario, families are set to become first-time homeowners thanks to a Habitat for Humanity–led project sponsored by Barrick Hemlo. Hemlo, which operates the Williams and David Bell mines near Marathon, is contributing C$50,000 to the project and helping recruit other local sponsors.
“This was a good opportunity for us to bring people together for a common cause and do some good in the community,” says Debra Bouchie, Employee Relations Superintendent at Hemlo.
Habitat for Humanity works with community volunteers and partners to build affordable homes and help break the cycle of poverty. Since 1994, the organization’s Thunder Bay affiliate has built 27 homes, all in the city of Thunder Bay, located about 3.5 hours east of Marathon.
“We have a huge district,” says Habitat for Humanity Thunder Bay CEO Diane Mitchell. “It takes 10 hours to drive across it and four hours north-to-south. We just don’t have the capacity to go out into the district, and we could not have done this project without Barrick. We can’t thank them enough.”
The project became a possibility in 2012 when the Canadian government informed Habitat for Humanity that it had homes available in Marathon. The two homes, both three-bedroom bungalows, were built in the 1970s and each require significant renovations, Mitchell says. “Everything needs updating,” she says. “We’re redoing the roof, windows, some of the plumbing, kitchen cupboards, bathrooms and we’re putting bedrooms in the basement of one of the homes because one family is a little bit bigger.”
The community of Marathon is closely involved in the project, Mitchell adds, noting that the building coordinator is from the town and that building materials for the two homes are being donated or acquired at a discount from local businesses. The homes are expected to be ready this summer.
Last summer, a Family Selection Committee, which consisted of two Barrick employees, Mitchell and a member of the Marathon community, was formed to choose the families who would receive the homes. To be eligible, families had to be living at or below the poverty line, be unable to afford a conventional mortgage and live in an unsuitable home, which could mean anything from overcrowding to unsafe or unhealthy living conditions. The families also needed to have a steady income, as they are required to pay a mortgage and property tax commensurate with their income. In addition, the families had to agree to volunteer 500 hours of their time to help build their home and/or volunteer in the community.
Lonna Beaulieu heard about the Habitat for Humanity project last August just a week before applications were due. A single mother of three children, she works as a coordinator at the Marathon Economic Development Corporation. She rents a home in Marathon that she says has seen better days. “The cupboards are starting to fall apart, the outside tap leaks and it’s oil heated,” she says. “This winter I’ve been paying a thousand dollars a month just in oil.”
She managed to get her application in just ahead of the deadline, and in October she found out she was one of the two families who will be receiving a home. “It means a lot,” she says.
“I’ll be able to pay into a mortgage and own my own house. That’s a little more security because, at any given time, when you’re renting, if you don’t meet the requirements they can just say, ‘Okay, we’re not renting to you anymore.’”
Mortgage and tax payments are adjusted each year based on income, Mitchell says. Typically, payments total 25 percent of gross family income. “We do work with families if a major event occurs in their life, like a job loss or a serious illness,” Mitchell says. “We try to find a way to keep them in the house.”
Ultimately, by providing affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity helps families break the cycle of poverty. Families no longer have to choose, for instance, whether to buy food or pay rent, and they tend to use social services less, Mitchell says. Many families are able to save enough to allow one or both parents to return to school and further their education.
Marley Malley says home ownership would not have been possible for her family without Habitat for Humanity. A mother of four who works as a produce manager in Marathon, her family was also selected to receive a home. “I know there are lots of people who don’t have homes, so I’m thankful that we have always had a roof over our head,” she says. “But I’m also a realistic person and I know that, without this type of opportunity for my family, we would never, ever have been able to own our own home.”