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The Huge Benefits of Home Ownership for Low-Income Families

06/04/2013 05:11 EDT | Updated 08/04/2013 05:12 EDT

A home of your own is far more than a financial asset.

For low-income families, ownership of a safe and decent home can play a vital role in a family's health and happiness, to the point where fewer sick days are taken and kids are getting better grades in school.

Those are just some of the insights from a new study led by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) that surveyed 326 families who have accessed affordable homeownership through Habitat for Humanity since 2000.

For many low-income Canadian families, especially those with children, once the bare essentials are paid -- such as for substandard housing, and basic food and clothing -- the paycheque is gone. There is nothing left to go towards saving for better shelter or a better life.

Habitat for Humanity's model offers a way out of this vicious cycle by providing a path to affordable homeownership. We sell houses to families at fair market value and gear mortgages to income - with zero interest and no down payment required. All we require upfront is hard work and sweat, and the desire to get ahead. Families contribute 500 hours towards the building of their own house, and volunteers help take care of the rest.

For the families that partner through Habitat, the difference shows in the quality their lives.

The results of the CMHC study are astonishing. Among the findings:

  • 89 per cent said their family lives have improved and 86 per cent say they are happier;
  • 78 per cent reported improved health of their families, with 31 per cent reported less frequent visits to the doctor and 25 per cent reported fewer sick days away from work;
  • An across-the-board improvement in children's well-being and school performance;
  • More than half (58 per cent) reported that they were better-off financially.

Numbers don't show everything.

Bradley and Charissa Shea have four children. When they first approached Habitat, they were living in a two-bedroom, mould-infested apartment. One of their kids, Caleb, is autistic, and Charissa must stay home to care for him. Habitat for Humanity helped them secure an affordable mortgage to buy their own home. This has taken a load off their minds -- and allowed Bradley to upgrade his skills and better provide for his family.

April Smoke grew up on a First Nations reserve in Alderville, Ontario. Though she moved far from home to pursue post-secondary education, she and her son Josh could only afford crowded, unsafe, unhealthy housing in an unfamiliar place. Today, April is back among her community in Alderville, living in a Habitat home that was built there in partnership with the First Nations community. April now feels more at home and Josh is learning about his Ojibwe heritage.

These are only two stories. Over 2,200 families have received Habitat homes in Canada -- and we're working on building more. Whether you donate, volunteer on a build, or just let people know about our important work, we'd like you to be a part of it.

As this new study confirms, your contribution will make a real difference in the lives of families and their children. Learn more about Habitat for Humanity Canada and how you can get involved at www.habitat.ca.

From Kevin Marshman, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada

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