Habitat for Humanity looks to Haliburton County

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Habitat for Humanity wants to make a home in Haliburton County.
That is, Susan Zambonin told council when it met March 27, that Habitat for Humanity Peterborough and Kawartha Region (HHPK) wants to build homes in the county.
“We have not to date,” said Zambonin, the group’s CEO. “We’ve built in all the other areas of our service area.”
Haliburton County staff are reviewing plans that could see as many as 60 housing units constructed, she said. And they’ve had a preliminary presentation about builds in Algonquin Highlands.
HHPK doesn’t provide social, rental, or market housing. Rather, the organization helps individuals and families get affordable housing.
They saw the completion of a 41-unit condominium complex in April 2022 in Peterborough. That project doubled the number of families it served in its 20 years of existence, she said.
That was a $15-million project they were able to build for $10.6-million because of community partners.
“We see this as our future,” Zambonin said.
She said it’s difficult to find the land to accommodate the construction of single family homes.
“When you do, the cost is really prohibitive,” she said. “There’s such a great need, we need to serve more families.”
As a result, Zambonin said HHPK will take the time necessary to work with municipalities to have land rezoned for high density projects.
“And we’ll figure out a way to come up with the money to pay for it,” she said.
Many people believe Habitat for Humanity gives away housing for free. That’s a misconception that needs to be dispelled, she said. But they found a way to finance their builds.
The classic model was a no down payment, no interest mortgage held by Habitat with the construction financed by donations and previous homeowner payments. But it has become harder to finance properties as they build more homes amidst escalating interest rates and construction costs.
To alleviate that, the financial partner mortgage model was devised. That Kawartha Credit Union will provide a first mortgage for what the homeowner qualifies.
“We used to say that homeowners for Habitat didn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage,” she said. “But that’s not really true.”
Most people can qualify for some kind of a mortgage. What they can’t get is a mortgage that’ll enable them to buy in the current market. And then there’s the down payment that becomes another obstacle.
“Our model takes that into consideration,” Zambonin said.
If somebody can get a $250,000 mortgage but the house costs $400,000, HHPK will hold a second mortgage to cover the difference. And the homeowner only pays on the first mortgage to the credit union, she said.
That maintains the payments for the homeowner at 30 per cent of their income.
“Which means it’s affordable to them, but they don’t pay that second mortgage until they’ve either paid off their first mortgage or they sell their home and then they pay us back,” she said.
Warden Liz Danielsen, the mayor of Algonquin Highlands, applauded HHPK’s innovative approach to providing housing.
Councillor Murray Fearrey, Dysart’s mayor, echoed Danielsen.
“You’re targeting the right area of people and, in my view, these are the people that really need it,” Fearrey said. “They work, they’re contributing to the community. It’s a win-win.”
Coun. Jennifer Dailloux, who is the deputy mayor of Algonquin Highlands, asked how Habitat manages to keep the houses lower than market value over many owners.
Zambonin said it’s in the deed and the mortgage that Habitat has the right of first refusal to buy back the house.
“We almost always buy it back,” Zambonin said.
Then Habitat finds another family and sells it to them with the same initial conditions.