Several dozen people took part in a demonstration in south Edmonton on Monday to call on Habitat for Humanity to live up to a deal made between the non-profit and some of the people it houses.
Fifty-seven families have joined a class-action lawsuit over what they claim is the non-profit not living up to its agreements. None of their claims have been tested in court.
Two local organizations, the Edmonton chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, have voiced their support for those who have joined the lawsuit. In a news release, BLM said those taking legal action are “Black, Muslim, low-income, disabled families who are at risk of being put out on the street by Habitat for Humanity.”
Late last year, the Edmonton chapter of Habitat for Humanity announced that it would be overhauling its mortgage program due to the $27 million debt it is facing. The changes that the non-profit planned to bring in were to have 50 per cent of homes’ mortgages coming from a bank with interest instead of providing mortgages with no interest that were entirely financed by Habitat for Humanity.
“They had expectations of what I had to do,” said Naimo Musse, one of the protesters who attended Monday’s rally. “I did my 500 hours of sweat equity. I showed all my financial records. I did all my workshops, so did everybody else.
“When it was time for Habitat to do their part, they didn’t.”
Musse said some people living in homes provided by Habitat for Humanity are being forced out.
“This is terrible, and in the middle of a pandemic to be told you need to leave your home in a month,” she said, “that is heartbreaking, and where is the charity in that?”
The CEO for Habitat for Humanity Canada said nobody being housed through an arrangement with the organization will become homeless.
“No families are going to be asked to leave their homes while discussion and mediation are going on,” said Julia Deans.
A lawyer for families involved in the lawsuit says a court ruling could force people out.
He added that the new mortgage arrangement is not working because families are not getting approved for loans by banks.
Last year, an official with Habitat for Humanity told Global News the non-profit had accumulated debt because although the land for homes being built is donated to the organization, grants used towards construction only cover about 22 houses in a good year. With Habitat for Humanity building about 50 homes in Edmonton every year, the non-profit began to borrow money to bridge the gap not being filled through fundraising and grants.
Watch below: (From December 2019) Habitat for Humanity is in financial trouble and fears it could go under if it doesn’t take action. The non-profit has decided to change its mortgage model to recoup some money. But as Sarah Ryan reports, some families it has helped are now heading to court.
At the time, the organization said people living in its homes would not be required to pay more than the standard 30 per cent of their income each year under the new mortgage arrangement. The difference, however, would be how quickly those working to own their Habitat homes would be gaining equity.
Jostina Johannes, a BLM member who was at Monday’s demonstration, said all that people involved in the lawsuit are “expecting is that Habitat for Humanity uphold their part of the agreement between them.”
“We are just standing with them and making sure that they are empowered to speak,” she said.
Deans said Habitat for Humanity wants to return to the negotiating table with a mediator and that the organization hopes that will lead to an agreement between the two parties.
–With files from Global News’ Sarah Ryan