Rowena Santonil and her son, Justin Santonil, 9, receive the keys to their new home in Richmond. The home was built by Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver.
Submitted / PNG
A year ago, Rowena Santonil was desperate to get out of the mouldy, vermin-infested one-bedroom apartment where she had lived for years with her nine-year-old son Justin.The run-ins with mice and cockroaches were “a little terrifying,” the noises were unnerving and they didn’t feel safe in their home. Santonil had been applying for co-operative housing and putting herself on wait-lists, but couldn’t find anything affordable.“I was really at a dead end — a real dead end in my life at that point,” she said.However, an opportunity presented itself unexpectedly when she and her coworkers volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver project site in Richmond in April 2018, and learned more about the organization.“Something just really clicked in my brain, and I just knew that I had to apply,” Santonil said.After going through an extensive year-long application process, Santonil received the keys to her new home last week — a two-bedroom suite in one of the Habitat for Humanity houses she worked on while volunteering last year.“We’re really excited. It’s just letting go of the old and going into something new that we can look forward to. We’re ready for it — we’re more than ready for it,” Santonil said. “It is going to make me feel safe, and secure, and comfortable and proud in more ways than one.”Mother and son move in on July 1. They are one of five families to get a home on the site, which has three finished houses and three more on the way. Two of the homes have three-bedroom units upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs, and the third is a five-bedroom home. The new houses, for which foundations have already been poured, should be done by the end of the year and will accommodate six families in total.Building the first three homes took two years, according to Steph Baker, vice-president of construction for Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver, and some families waited significantly longer than that, depending on when they applied.“It was a long process to get there. They were pretty excited to get the keys,” Baker said.Baker said the homes offer families “a hand up” with good, affordable housing while they save money. Habitat charges the residents 30 per cent of their income as rent, and when they are eventually ready move out they are given back 80 per cent of the money that they have contributed, to be used as a down payment on a home.During their time living in a Habitat for Humanity home, families are provided with financial literacy training, and save money for things such as retirement, education and emergencies.On average, Canadians stay in Habitat homes for about 11 years — in the Lower Mainland, it’s five or six years.“We’re not simply building rentals that people will nest in, we’re providing them with a stepping stone out of that poverty rental cycle, and into the stability of eventual home ownership that they’re looking for,” Baker said. “We’re the cog that allows people to move along that housing continuum where otherwise they’d be trapped.”Building and land costs are a huge challenge in the Lower Mainland, and Habitat for Humanity relies on donated materials and labour, volunteers and the co-operation of host municipalities to build successful projects. Baker said the organization is also having ongoing discussions with developers about how to integrate into the projects they’re creating.Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver already has 27 units in Burnaby and one in Vancouver, on top of the ones finished and under construction in Richmond. They also have two projects in the works in Mission and Coquitlam — 19 units and 50 units, respectively.“We all know there is a housing affordability issue here, and we are a solution to address that,” she said.For Santonil, Habitat for Humanity provided hope, and she’s looking forward to giving back and helping other families.“I think, especially for single mothers out there who have hit a dead end or a wall, there is hope,” Santonil said. “You just have to find the right avenues, and just stick it out, and stay strong and trust in God.”To find out more about Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver, visit email@example.com/jensaltmanRelated