Family pays it down by paying it forward
Makes down payment for home by volunteering
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 06:00 am
Last Saturday evening, Brandy Hodgson finished making the down payment on her new duplex that’s set to break ground this month.
But she didn’t go to the bank for one last deposit. Instead she drove to Calgary and spent the evening volunteering with Calgary Helping the Homeless (YYCHH), finishing her last of 500 community service hours owed to Habitat for Humanity in lieu of a traditional down payment.
"Part of home ownership is not just signing the mortgage,” said Amy Christiansen, the family services chair for the Mountain View chapter of Habitat for Humanity. “We want homeowners to feel really connected to this whole process, so part of the mortgage contract is that every family must complete 500 hours.”
The community service hours are known as ‘sweat equity,’ and are served in place of a down payment. In Hodgson’s case, as a single mother, she was required to complete 200 hours herself, of which her kids were also allowed to contribute 25 hours each. And indeed, she didn’t go to Calgary alone on Saturday evening – both of her children, Tyson and Taya Pratt, helped cook and serve the food for YYCHH.
Often, HFH partner families earn ‘sweat equity’ hours by helping to build the house they will eventually own. But the construction model for Hodgson’s duplex means it will be professionally built, using local tradespeople, instead of volunteers.
Hodgson will be able to help out with smaller tasks, like ripping out the chain- link fence around the property or helping with finishing touches but otherwise, her hours had to be made up for in the community.
Hodgson and her kids were chosen as an HFH partner family at the end of December. In addition to driving into Calgary every Saturday since February to volunteer with YYCHH, Hodgson also helped with HFH special events, worked at the food bank, and manned the concession at the Olds Sportsplex.
"It’s amazing, that she's got that much done in the time that she started,” said Christiansen. "That's a big undertaking to have to complete those hours above and beyond your daily life schedule, and she has met it so, so quickly, and so well.”
The balance of Hodgson’s 500 hours could be contributed by friends and family on her behalf, and they were completed in short order too – it took them only two months.
“Her story of how she chose to meet those hours with her family really embodies what Habitat believes about home ownership and service,” said Christiansen.
And it doesn’t end just because she’s met her dues.
“I wasn't big on volunteering before, but I think this is something that is going to continue for both my children and I,” said Hodgson. “It's something that we enjoy doing; I don't see us stopping after our hours are complete."
The community volunteer work is just one way that HFH tries to model its motto of offering ‘a hand up, not a handout.’
“As a Habitat partner family, in addition to the sweat equity, you also commit to stepping up as an Ambassador for Habitat. My kids and I attend Habitat information sessions, in case anyone who is thinking of applying has any questions about the process.”
Hodgson said a lot of people don’t realize that they might be good candidates for becoming a partner family.
“A lot of people, probably, are held back by pride, thinking that Habitat is what I thought it was, something to take people off the streets,” said Hodgson, who is a Financial Services Representative at CIBC. “I didn't realize what Habitat did or who they catered to – I thought it was helping homeless.”
But it’s not – in fact the HFH mission is to help working families with stable incomes who otherwise can’t qualify for a traditional mortgage. To qualify, families must include children, and one adult who is employed full-time with good credit and limited debt. In fact, says Hodgson, single working parents are often ideal candidates.
“It helps people who have that missing link in home ownership,” said Hodgson, “when you can't quite bring it together.”
She encourages others who think owning a home may be beyond their means, to apply on the website and to attend an information session.
"Come. Come and try. Come and see," said Hodgson.