Women build houses and empowerment for Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver

Photo of Andrea Reimer at Women Build event by Sindhu Dharmarajah
Photo of Andrea Reimer at Women Build event by Sindhu Dharmarajah

Women across the Lower Mainland filled the ballroom at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver last night to celebrate Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver's event ‘Women Build.’

Power Women, Power Tools by Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver CEO Tim Clark nailed her message to the audience when she told them that the initiative “doesn’t exclude men, but it’s about including women.”

The goal was to recruit new volunteers or to have women commit to raising $1,000 to end the poverty cycle, one family at a time.  For women who commit to raising $2,500 or more, Habitat Greater Vancouver provides a pink hard hat.

“We’re always looking for volunteers and this is always a good way to get women involved in the build,” said volunteer Sherry Lam. “That is crucial. I believe that 90 per cent of the people involved with Habitat are volunteers.”

Those pink hard hats were the must haves of the night.

In the crowd was Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer. As a former parks board representative, she used to tell younger women “trades is the way to go,” she said. Habitat for Humanity has done a lot of work in the States, so she said she was excited to see a community-building network in the Lower Mainland.

“I’m interested to see how they can make the model work in a region with such high land values (Richmond), and I know a lot of their work has been in areas where land is a lot more accessible,” she said. “It’s usually vacant land or cheap lands, so I know they’ve been here for quite a long time but they’re figuring out how to scale up and particularly this focus on women is exciting.”

The group  built a 27 unit community complex in Burnaby in partnership with BC Housing that was completed in 2013. Next year, Habitat will build six homes, each with a rental suite, in Richmond, a new model for the organization.

Clark said one of the reasons women were the focus of the new initiative was because single mothers make up many of Habitat’s partner families.

“I think men feel vulnerable too, but I think as women we feel more vulnerable, especially in a constrained housing market,” said Reimer. “I think one of the worst things that happens to you when your housing is vulnerable is the feeling of helplessness. I think one of the things you get back from [Habitat] is that you don’t just get housing out of it, you get that sense of empowerment around how that housing came to be.”

Women across the Lower Mainland wanted to find out more about this initiative.

So how does the Women Build for Habitat for Humanity work?

The program reaches out from Langley to Squamish, and eligible families will go under a selective process. The candidates’ level of need will be assessed; they must be working and have a minimum income of $35,000 and cannot exceed $65,000.

Once that process is dealt with, the candidates must put in 500 hours of sweat equity for a home down payment.

“Sometimes it seems easier to cut a cheque,” said Clark, "but our partner family will tell you that the sweat equity is possible and easy."

The Habitat home owners volunteer time and one place they can do that is at ReStore. ReStore is a social enterprise home improvement store operated by Habitat Greater Vancouver where shoppers can receive 50 to 80 per cent off environmentally-friendly home decor and building supplies which has been donated by locals.  ReStore has three locations in the Greater Vancouver area.

Lisa Robertson heard about Habitat for Humanity in Greater Vancouver through her mother-in-law, she said. With a sick daughter who went from needing a walker to a wheelchair, she could no longer watch her daughter crawl up to her room on the days Robertson couldn’t carry her.

“Our new beautiful home is amazing because we have wide hallways, wide door ways, we have low counters, everything is so accessible,” she said while fighting back tears. “This kid is so happy, you have no idea how happy this kid is.”

Lisa Robertson's with her two daughters.

Clark says 20 per cent of children are raised in poverty in BC, while over 85,000 families are living in poor housing that are overpriced and over crowded. The CEO promises volunteers who will help her change those numbers that they’ll learn new skills, meet new friends and build something that will last.

“I was looking into volunteer opportunities before,” said blogger Leyanna Nguyen. “But I came out today to see some faces and see if there was an opportunity for me to help out in the community.”

Women build has garnered many female ambassadors to help recruit more women into the initiative. Some included absent Dianne Watts who had a video message for the crowd and Premier Christy Clark who emphasized the importance of the program.

"So we want to empower women in our community to make a difference, to give back in their own backyard, and to contribute by building safe and affordable housing for all," Clark said.

To find out more about Women Build, click here.

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