Homeownership Oct. 18, 2017

Habitat homeowners Alex and Dionne fulfill their long-time dream of buying their own home

“We drive by the new house about once a week,” future Habitat homeowner Dionne says with a laugh.

Her family’s weekly visits usually happen at the request of their children, though she and her husband Alex are equally excited about their new Habitat home. For them, it feels like a dream come true after spending so many years driving by other people’s homes, pointing out features they like, hoping they would someday have a place to call their own.

“Homeownership is something Alex and I have always talked about – it’s something we’ve always wanted for our children,” Dionne says. It should come as no surprise, then, that when they were chosen to partner with Habitat for Humanity Regina, they were eager to accept the offer.

“We were in absolute shock when we found out,” Dionne says. “They told us that they were going to send us home so that we could think about it and we were like, ‘we don’t want to think about it, we want to do it!’”

They did go home to get their parents’ feedback on the partnership, which would involve volunteering for 500 hours, paying an interest-free affordable mortgage for the fair market value of the home, as well as taking classes in home maintenance and financial budgeting to make sure they had the tools to maintain their home responsibly. But after living in cramped and crumbling subsidized housing in Regina’s far north end for the past decade, she says they never seriously considered saying no.

A dangerous and deteriorating home

Dionne describes their current place as “deteriorating.” There are cabinet doors falling off their hinges, paint chipping on just about every wall, a leaking kitchen ceiling and no railings leading into the basement. Space is another big issue for the family of seven, who share just three bedrooms. In an effort to separate their son from their daughters, the four girls—Samara, Soraya, Carissa and Dorothy—share the master bedroom, which is equipped with a double bed and bunk, while their son, Mekhi, has the smaller bedroom to himself. It provides little room for them to play, but spending more time outside isn’t a great alternative.

According to Dionne, many of their neighbours deal with substance abuse problems, which means that in addition to finding the police SWAT team surrounding their complex more than once, they often deal with loud noises late into the night, and have even found people passed out on the ground out front, where the kids typically play.

“It’s a lot of explaining things to the kids that we shouldn’t have to,” Dionne says. “We have to explain why people do the things they do, even when they’re not right, and let the kids know when they need to come find us.”

It’s also left her fearful of leaving her children on their own, despite the oldest being 15 years old.

Dionne and Alex searched for other options prior to partnering with Habitat, but never had much luck. They couldn’t afford to rent on their own, and there aren’t many subsidized housing options in the city for a family their size. They were put on a list for a larger place about three years ago, but still haven’t heard back.

“It sometimes felt like we’d never be able to get ahead,” Dionne says. But after recently receiving an email telling her that she and Alex completed all 500 volunteer hours needed to partner with Habitat, she’s feeling much more hopeful about her family’s future.

“It’s going to be so nice to be surrounded by people who are working to better their lives"

There will be 61 other families moving into their townhouse complex, which Habitat Regina is building on a large lot in Eastview as part of their biggest build in history. In the process of completing their hours, both at the Habitat ReStore and on the build site, Dionne and Alex have gotten to know their future neighbours, and already consider many of them friends. Knowing who they’ll be living next to, and being able to count down to move-in day together, has made them even more excited about becoming Habitat homeowners. But for Dionne, the best part is that she and Alex will finally be living in a decent, affordable home in a safe community.

“It’s going to be so nice to be surrounded by people who are working to better their lives, for themselves and for their children,” she says. She hopes that growing up in a safe neighbourhood among people who take pride in their homes, will give her children something to aspire to. But she also wants to ensure they understand what it takes to get there.

She uses those weekly drives past the build site as an opportunity to show off some of the work she and Alex have done as part of their partnership with Habitat, whether it’s the back steps they helped build or the siding they installed.

“We want to give them a sense of what we’re working toward, and why it’s so important to work hard.”