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Habitat for Humanity hands keys to new homeowners

By Lorraine Graves

Published 4:17 PDT, Fri May 24, 2019

The sun shone brightly as five families officially took possession of their new homes at the Habitat for Humanity project on Richmond’s Ash Street on May 23.

The Sentinel has profiled the Mohamed-Taha and the Rai families on their two-year journey to homes of their own.

As is typical of all Habitat for Humanity projects, each family selected, from the hundreds who applied, had to volunteer for a minimum of 500 hours. Dad, Gumachu Taha long ago exceeded his required hours but continues to volunteer at one of the association’s ReStore thrift stores. And that’s in addition to his part-time job as an official translator and his full-time job as an assistant manager at a London Drugs store in Vancouver.

The whole Mohamed-Taha family looks forward to being part of the Richmond community, as they leave a one-bedroom apartment with their three children, sons Dursa aged six and Ifnan aged 2, and daughter Nanati aged four and a half. Mom, Dureti Mohamed says she’s looking forward to having a dishwasher for her family of five and is excited about having a washer and dryer in their home instead of coin-operated one a few floors away. With her husband away working so much, she had no one to watch the children so she could trek to the coin-op machines so either had to take them all with her or wait for the rare times her husband was home to do the family of five’s laundry.

The Rai family expressed their delight that they will no longer be renovicted. Having moved 11 times in as many years, finding a home suitable for their middle child, Caleb, who now uses a wheelchair due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, was close to impossible. The main floor of new their home on Ash St. offers complete access for Caleb with a wheel-in shower and bathroom large enough for his chair to turn around in. It means an affordable, safe, clean home for the entire Rai family.

Habitat for Humanity asks the owners to pay 25 per cent of their income towards the mortgage on the home in addition to paying the property taxes and utilities, just as any homeowner does. What’s different is that if a family decides to move away from their Habitat home, they will receive the sum total of their payments back from Habitat, as the land, labour and materials for the home were mostly donated. The organization then looks for another deserving family to buy the house. This prevents flipping and speculation while promoting home ownership.

At the official ceremony, Dennis Coutts, CEO of CEO ofHabitatGreater Vancouver said, “These families have been on a longer journey than we have.” Each family has a story of hardship overcome through hard work and community support.

“We’re serving families,” Coutts said.

“Just look at yourselves and the people around you,” he said as he gestured to the large crowd, a small sampling of all the volunteers who made these homes possible.

MLAs John Yap and Linda Reid also celebrated at the ribbon cutting.

Reid said, “Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” It was at Reid’s suggestion, when Sharon Rai went to her after being renovicted yet again, that Rai applied to Habitat for home ownership. A strong Habitat supporter, as is former US president Jimmy Carter, Reid rallied the provincial Liberal caucus, which showed up to wrap the homes in Tyvek wind-proofing before the siding went on.

Armin Amrolia, a VP of BC Housing, talked of the teamwork and flexibility it took from many levels of government, non-profits and neighbours to bring about this day, a day 19 years in the making. She spoke of receiving this land from another agency in 2000. In 2006, their efforts to put a recovery house on the site were blocked by neighbours’ fears.

Determined to use the land for a socially valuable purpose, “We took plans to the city for a small lot subdivision, something unheard of in Richmond at that time. Habitat was first on our list.” she said.

The Habitat volunteers at the ribbon-cutting ranged in age from youth to 90-year-old Glenn Irwin who helps the organization raise money to fund this project and others by working regularly at the Langley ReStore. Irwin may not be able to swing a hammer, as Jimmy Carter often has on these projects in his 90s, but his work is as valuable as any. Irwin was as thrilled as everyone to see these families get the keys to their new homes.

When all 10 homes are completed, there will be a play park in the middle for all the children. There is a school and park close by as well. Each new homeowner expressed their desire to volunteer in their neighbourhood, to give back and to become part of the community that has welcomed them.

Habitat for Humanity embodies practical helpfulness. It’s Canadian culture at its best, neighbours working together to solve a problem one home, or five, at a time.

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