Homeownership FAQ

What is Habitat for Humanity?

Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa (Habitat GO) is a volunteer-based, non-profit, non-governmental organization that builds simple, decent homes for families in need of affordable houisng. Habitat GO sells the homes they build based on an interest-free mortgage to families seeking an affordable home. Habitat achieves its mission by partnering with Habitat homeowners, corporate sponsors, donors and volunteers.

What is Habitat's mission?

To mobilize volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting homeownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty. Habitat for Humanity brings communities together by helping families build strength, stability and independence through affordable homeownership.

How does the Habitat program work?

Through volunteer labour, efficient management and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, Habitat builds (and, in some cases, rehabilitates) simple, decent homes with the help of the Habitat homeowner (partner) families. Habitat homes are sold to partner families with an interest-free, long term mortgage.

How large is the Habitat for Humanity organization?

Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat International is headquartered in Americus, Georgia, U.S.A. Habitat for Humanity International (HfHI) works in over 100 countries. Habitat for Humanity has been operating in Canada since 1985 and there are currently 58 affiliates in all 10 provinces and territories and served over 300 Canadian communities.

When did Habitat for Humanity come to the National Capital Region?

Habitat GO has been operating in the Greater Ottawa area since 1993 and is governed by a Board of Directors of 15 volunteer members. Habitat GO operations depend on an annual volunteer base of around 1,000 people.

How many homes has Habitat built?

Habitat GO has successfully built over 300,001 homes worldwide and housed more than one million family members. This success means that approximately every 15 minutes somewhere in the world, a family receives keys to their new Habitat home. Since 1993, Habitat GO is proud to have provided affordable and safe housing in the Greater Ottawa area by serving 59 Habitat partner families.

How is a partner family chosen?

Habitat families are low-income, working families who want to help themselves and others to become homeowners. As a first step, they must complete the Home Application Form. In the application form we ask about:

  1. The family.
  2. Financial and employment situations.
  3. Current housing need.
  4. Current volunteerism.

How are applications screened?

Applications are screened for eligibility based on three basic criteria:

  1. Degree of a family’s current housing need.  Viable applicants will be visited and interviewed in their home.
  2. The ability to pay a long term, interest-free mortgage.  Applicants must provide proof of income for three years.
  3. A family’s willingness to partner, and contribute a minimum of 500 volunteer hours to Habitat GO and to be a goodwill “ambassador” for the organization.  Applicants must provide references.
  4. A credit history check.
  5. A criminal records check.

How long does it take to apply for a Habitat home?

The application process is thorough and can take as long as four months. Applicants who wish to be considered must submit completed applications. Habitat’s Family Selection Committee (FSC), composed of volunteers from the community, review all applications. The FSC then refers its recommendations to Habitat’s Board of Directors for final selection as a qualified Habitat family.

Are there choices in home design?

Habitat GO has several basic home designs that can be tailored according to lot size and the number of family members. Habitat GO sticks to a certain design to ensure that construction is “volunteer friendly,” cost effective, and in keeping with Habitat’s guidelines of simple, decent homes.

How many bedrooms are there?

Habitat GO typically builds three-bedroom homes, but plans can be modified if this is necessary to meet specific family situations.

Do Habitat homes have basements?

Yes. Habitat homes have basements where the location, the type of home and building codes permit a basement.

Can a family add a bathroom or bedroom or other addition to the home?

After a family takes possession of their home, they can add rooms or additions at their own expense. Additions to the home can be built by the homeowner, but only with a building permit. Should an addition be built without a permit and if Habitat NCR retakes possession of the home for whatever reason, Habitat GO will charge the cost of removing the addition from the property and add this to the overall cost of the home.

What are “sweat equity” volunteer hours?

HFH requires each family to contribute a minimum of 500 hours of their time volunteering for Habitat. Family and/or friends can also contribute to the required hours. There is no compensation for these volunteer hours.  NOTE: Sweat equity hours must be completed before the partner family takes possession of their Habitat home.

What types of activity qualify for sweat equity?

Examples of sweat equity include:

  • attending Habitat home owner education sessions (these are mandatory and counted as double hours);
  • attending pre-approved relevant home improvement classes at local renovation retail stores (also counted as double hours);
  • volunteer work for other community or charitable organizations (to a limit of 10% against the total required hours);
  • work as a volunteer on the build site of a Habitat home (work is assigned by the Habitat construction supervisor);
  • school credits (good grades) from children or adults in your family currently attending school (to a limit of  10% against the total required hours);
  • volunteer hours at the Habitat ReStore;
  • volunteer hours worked on administrative tasks assigned at the Habitat GO office: and,
  • volunteering for speaking engagements and media interviews about Habitat.

When can I start my sweat equity?

You can start to record your sweat equity when you have been selected as a "Qualified Habitat Family” and have signed a Habitat Partnership Agreement.

How do I learn about sweat equity opportunities?

Once you have signed a Habitat Partnership Agreement, two Habitat volunteers (called family partners) will be assigned to work with you to help you prepare for homeownership. The family partners will help to keep you informed about the opportunities to volunteer and complete your sweat equity requirements. Opportunities will be coordinated by the Volunteer Coordinator.

Who can contribute sweat equity?

You and members of your immediate family who will be living in the home can contribute. In addition, families may designate up to five more relatives or friends to contribute up to 20% of your required hours (only on your home build site).

How does the mortgage process on a Habitat home work?

When a home is completed, an independent appraisal is done to calculate the market value of the home and property. Habitat will hold an interest-free mortgage based on 100% of the market value of the home and property. A family must fully repay the mortgage to Habitat. In effect, Habitat becomes the bank. Like a bank, Habitat expects regular monthly payments. A family who falls behind in their mortgage payments could lose their home. The amount of the monthly payments and the appraised value of the home will determine how long it takes to pay off the mortgage. Once the mortgage is completely paid off, a family will own the home and property.

How much would a monthly mortgage payment be?

Habitat homes are sold to families based on the appraised value of the home. The long-term mortgage is repaid with monthly payments that are based upon the family’s income and will not exceed 25% of the total household income. Monthly mortgage payments also include home insurance and property taxes. Habitat reviews the monthly mortgage payments once each year and makes adjustments as required. As your income increases, so will your mortgage payments.

What is the absolute minimum payment for a Habitat mortgage?

The current absolute minimum payment towards a Habitat mortgage, including property taxes and home insurance, is approximately $1,050.00 per month.

What about utilities and maintenance?

As a homeowner, you will be responsible for the cost of all utilities (gas, electricity, water, telephone and cable, etc.), and for the total cost of performing proper maintenance for your home. A homeowner should estimate the minimum average cost of utilities to be $550.00 monthly.  A new Habitat homeowner should expect to pay a minimum of $1600.00 a month (mortgage + utilities) to operate their new home. This minimum amount will increase depending on the utility requirements of each family.

Can I sell my home after having lived in it for a few years?

Habitat GO retains all rights on the home, should a homeowner wish to sell, via its “Buy Back Policy.” Habitat GO has the first right of refusal on the home and will, in turn, sell the home to another deserving Habitat GO qualified family.

Will bankruptcy affect an application?

The bankruptcy must have been fully discharged for a period of 3 years prior to the date of application for a Habitat home along with a three year history of steady employment.

What if there is not a credit history?

Credit checks are part of the regular application process. Signed statements from a landlord, bank, hydro and other organizations that an applicant has dealt with on an ongoing basis can be good sources of credit history in the absence of a formal credit history.

What does Habitat qualify as income?

All income as listed on the Gross Household Income table of the Home Application Form. Child Tax Benefits do not qualify as household income.

When does the income of an adult in the family count towards total family income and when does it not?

The income of any persons living in the home, aged 18 years and older, is included in the family’s Gross Household Income, unless they are full time students. The family must provide proof that the person is a full time student for their income not to be included as household income.  

Why do you need to know all of the family's financial and employment information?

Habitat GO requires all sources of the household income and employment (full and part-time) information so that the Family Selection Committee can verify that the family’s Gross Household Income and employment falls within the low-income guidelines, according to the size of the family. In addition, this information verifies the family’s ability to pay the mortgage.

What happens if the household income changes after the title (mortgage) of the home has been transferred to our family?

Once the title of the home has been transferred to your name, an increase in your income will not disqualify you to remain in the home. However, you will be required to provide your financial information each year that you have a mortgage with Habitat GO. This information will be used to determine your monthly mortgage payment (not to exceed 25% of GHI). If your income increases, this may result in an upwards adjustment to your mortgage payment.

What happens if a family receives a cash windfall, such as winning the lottery or receiving money from an inheritance? How will this affect our eligibility for the home?

If this cash windfall occurs before the home has been transferred to your name, you will be reassessed based on your need. You could be disqualified if the value of your assets are too high, as your need will not be great enough to have a Habitat home.