Monday, October 04, 2010

(as published by the Daily Gleaner, October 02/10, by Heather McLaughlin)

The clock is ticking toward move-in day for a Taymouth family that will soon be the proud owners of its first home.

(Stephen MacGillivray Photo)
Mike Ross, director of operations for Habitat for Humanity Fredericton Area Inc., leans out of a window of the new home volunteers built.

Mike Ross, Habitat for Humanity's Fredericton-area director of operations, said supporters of the affordable-housing project rallied after a mid-August break-in caused some damage to the house, which is being built in the Delta Fredericton Hotel's parking lot.

A Fredericton company donated a new door for the home within two days of the incident and a law firm stepped up with further assistance. Habitat doesn't store tools or valuables at its work sites.

"We are almost ready to move it. We've got some crack filling and painting that we want to do, because it's easier to get volunteers here than it is to have them go to Taymouth," Ross said. "The foundation process in Taymouth is beginning."

New to the helm at Habitat, Ross said he's had a steep learning curve to get used to the stages and steps in the building process and to master scheduling. "Next time around it will be a lot easier, because I'll have a better idea of what is likely going to get accomplished," he said.
But he said he's been impressed by the productivity and commitment of volunteers and their upbeat attitude. "They work so darn hard, but they're having a good time," Ross said.

He said he's got lots of ideas for fresh projects and he'd love to do another off-site build at a public location, perhaps a shopping mall parking lot.
The non-profit group helps people of modest means own a home. The home is constructed with donated materials and volunteer labour, and the homeowners are assisted by receiving an interest-free mortgage through Habitat. Mortgage payments are fixed at 30 per cent of the family's gross income to keep the home's cost affordable.

The City of Fredericton and a private property owner have donated the land needed to allow for another Habitat home to be built in 2011. City councillors recently passed a resolution to donate a small strip of land at 60 Eatman Ave. to Habitat. A neighbouring property owner at 58 Eatman Ave. will donate land to be added to the city's public right-of-way as part of the land trade agreement. The end result of the property transfers is an building lot to be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Property owners who make land donations to the group are entitled to receive a tax receipt for the value of the donation. "That is great news," Ross said of council's approval of the transaction. "Partnering with the city and a generous citizen to see this go forward is terrific, it's great.
"What we need to have happen is that this just be the beginning of many such transactions."

The city has two other properties that would suit the organization's home-building requirements, but unlike Moncton and Saint John, Fredericton has taken the position it won't donate the land.

Ross said he'd like to see the municipality rethink that policy because the end result is that the city will get a new taxable property. He said he understands that the city wants to make money off surplus land, but the cause is worthy.

"If the city can be giving big bucks to the university and organizations like the Y, then giving a parcel of land that is lying fallow and that Habitat can turn into a parcel of land that is going to be creating tax revenue for the city forever that should be a good thing," Ross said.

Coun. Mike O'Brien, who sits on the city's affordable housing committee, said he's been asked to join the Habitat board and he's accepted the invitation. Council discussed its land donation policy awhile back, but unlike Moncton and Saint John, Fredericton doesn't have the same availability of vacant land. "They have a lot more land ... in the proper location," O'Brien said.

Land in Fredericton close to a bus route, shopping and a medical centre is more scarce and more valuable, he said. O'Brien said the city has identified a couple of properties that it could sell for about $30,000.
He said if Habitat could raise money through public and business donations to purchase the sites, the city will work hard to keep the land value in a reasonable range.

The city councillor said Exit Realty and corporate sponsors stepped up to the plate and purchased a piece of private property to aid the organization.
The city also created a developer's land discount provided the builder agrees to incorporate affordable housing in a new development

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