If I had a hammer...

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2015

Provide a home and the rest follows.

Maybe it was the hammer on the logo that first drew me in. There’s something invigorating about swinging a hammer to sink a nail to fasten two boards into new beginnings. The end result is almost always greater than the sum of its parts.

I discovered the magic of the hammer the summer I was eight and my dad decided to replace our barn, an old wood-boned structure that seemed to accept the news by leaning ever more noticeably towards its own tipping point. I have no memory of it coming down but I certainly remember the new one going up. With my oversized hammer I drove nail after nail into scraps of wood, timidly at first—because the thing you quickly learn is that a hammer works either for you or painfully against you—but then with enough fervour to prompt the foreman to put the nails out of my reach. 

Fast-forward to last spring and the intriguing logo. It belonged to Habitat for Humanity Victoria and was promoting a campaign to raise “100K in 100 days”—enough capital to help finish the construction of four attractive townhouses in a favourable Saanich neighbourhood. Habitat hoped to recruit 100 women willing to donate $1000 and, optionally, volunteer some hours at the build site. Maybe that was the part that drew me in.

Habitat for Humanity has become renowned for its success in breaking the poverty cycle. Like most effective models, theirs is sensible and straightforward: Build quality homes in vibrant neighbourhoods for working, lower-income families and make them affordable with an interest-free mortgage (payable to Habitat) and a required investment of 500 volunteer hours. Then mentor the family until their mortgage is paid off. Self-sufficiency, huge empowerment, and lasting friendships all come out of this. 

The model also ensures that success moves forward. As mortgages are repaid they’re combined with cash donations and ReStore revenue to replenish the lending pool and purchase more land, which is the biggest expense. The houses themselves are made possible by an ongoing supply of professional and amateur volunteer labour and tonnes of new donated materials. The accomplishments to date are significant: Habitat Victoria has built 22 homes in the last 15 years, and in Canada 221 Habitat homes were built in 2014 alone.

On a summer morning a group of donors come to the building site wearing pink Habitat shirts. We don steel-toed boots and pink hard hats and listen as our foreman outlines the day’s task. It seems we’re about to become proficient at installing insulation. Amanda, the single mom of two young boys who’s lent her face and story to this campaign, has also arrived. She’s sporting her usual dazzling smile and eagerness to pay down a bit of her volunteer debt. “But first come check out my new home!” she enthuses, leading the way inside. We tromp behind her on the raw plywood floors and up the unfinished stairs as she gives the grand tour, our excitement welling because this, this, is going to be a wonderfully perfect place for a great young family—and all of society will benefit from that. 

Studies confirm what the heart already knows: that the security of shelter impacts favourably on almost every other aspect of life. One analysis specifically put the Habitat model under scrutiny and concluded that every dollar the registered charity spends on housing places four dollars’ worth of social benefits back into society. That’s easy to imagine. Think of future monies not spent on crisis care. Think of health, morale and employability improved because the stress of transience has been lifted. Think of the enhanced likelihood that children will stay in school and all the far-reaching social dividends that come with that. 

“I never thought I’d be in a position to own my own home and provide this level of security for my family,” Amanda recently said to local media. “My oldest son’s gone to four different schools already so being able to put down roots and have stability is a dream come true.”

Later this fall Amanda and the other three families will officially receive their house keys. We women in pink have been invited to the celebration. My hammer will stay at home but I’ll bring a hankie for sure. 

Trudy invites you to check out Habitat’s amazing new ReStore at 3311H Oak Street (near Blanshard and Cloverdale). She feels shame that Canada continues to be the only G8 nation without a national housing policy.