From infested homes to ‘built with love’

Times & Transcript – May 2019
“We’re living in the house that love built.” That’s the chorus of a song that Francine Cyr, a mother of three from Moncton, wrote to thank the dozens of Habitat for Humanity volunteers who helped build her family a new home in 2006. “When we built this house we were hurting,” said her husband Mike, when she left the room to pick up her guitar. “You have to be vulnerable to accept help and say, ‘I’m willing,'” he said. “It’s easier sometimes to give than to receive.” 

The Cyrs are one of 27 families who have become homeowners thanks to Moncton’s Habitat for Humanity, which is celebrating 25 years in 2019. The non-profit brings communities in southeastern New Brunswick together to help low-income families build a new home. “We believe in the power and the solution of home ownership,” said Chantal Landry, executive director of Moncton’s Habitat for Humanity. “We’re changing their narratives.”

Mould-infested home

For 16 years, Salisbury resident Shelby Murray, who’s blind, lived in a hazardous mobile home with her mother. “For a while we were doing pretty good, but as time went on, there were holes coming through the floors and mould building up around my bedroom window,” said Murray. “Sometimes you couldn’t really smell it, but other times you could.” With water damage throughout their mobile home, an unstable front deck and a front door that wouldn’t close properly, Murray’s mother, Carolyn, said they both felt unsafe.

In 2016, Moncton’s Habitat for Humanity gathered dozens of volunteers to make sure the women would have a safe place to live before Christmas. “Habitat homes usually don’t build very quickly. However, in this particular case, they had so many community members involved that they built that house in three to four months,” said Landry, adding that Murray is well-known in the community because she plays the keyboard and accordion during community events. “The community came together incredibly quickly, and they were incredibly generous,” said Landry. “There were people bringing lunch and coffee.” Landry said she thinks volunteers were extra generous because of the conditions of the mobile home. “Their home was not safe,” she said. “It is unacceptable for anybody to be living in those conditions.” The mother and daughter no longer have to worry about mould or being unsafe. They now live in a two-bedroom, accessible house next to their previous home. “I feel a lot healthier in this house now. I have more freedom and space and it’s very easy to manoeuvre around,” said Murray. “If it wasn’t for Habitat, God knows where we would’ve wound up.”

Making ends meet

Prior to getting their new home, the Cyrs said they moved frequently — from rental unit to rental unit — to accommodate the growing needs of their three children. They were last living in a two-bedroom basement unit of a duplex with carpet that often triggered an allergic reaction in one of their children, said Mike Cyr. Although they were both working full-time, he said it was difficult to save up to buy a new home. “We were not financially dying at the time. We were a normal family, but getting a mortgage was not possible. Francine Cyr said the new four-bedroom home has brought the family the stability that they needed, and a newfound sense of safety. “Now I know that my kids, no matter where they are, will always have a home to come back to,” said Mike Cyr.

Habitat homes are not free

While families who benefit from Habitat for Humanity homes do not have to worry about making a large down payment, they still have to meet certain requirements — including having a reliable source of income — and commit to a mortgage plan.

“The house is not free, it’s a lift up,” said Cyr.

Mortgage payments are interest-free, however, and are limited to 30 per cent of the families’ total income. Payment amounts can also be reassessed if a family’s circumstances change, said Landry.

In addition, families have to commit between 250 and 500 hours of work on their new homes, and attend workshops on how to maintain their house and achieve financial stability. “We want to make sure that homeowners are set up for success,” said Landry.

Moncton’s Habitat for Humanity, one of 56 local Habitat for Humanity organizations across Canada, is funded almost entirely by individual and business donations.

Municipalities — including Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview — have donated land to support the organization in the past, said Landry.

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