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An Interview with Bethany McLachlin – Habitat for Humanity ~ Heartland Ontario
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Bethany McLachlin left with Sharon Brennan - General Manager, Partnerships & Programs
Bethany McLachlin is new at Habitat for Humanity ~ Heartland Ontario, joining the organization just three months ago. We took the opportunity to sit down with Bethany to talk about her role as the Family Services Coordinator and Marketing Assistant at Habitat for Humanity.

What prompted you to apply for this position at Habitat for Humanity?

My passion is people and I wanted a job where I could be part of making a positive difference in the people’s lives. In my past job as the Executive Assistant at Art for AIDS International, the work was wonderful and the organization is truly making a difference. They are encouraging young people through art and education to play an active and creative role in the global AIDS response. While it was gratifying, I didn’t have the direct one-on-one connection with those that we were helping. Here at Habitat, it is all about one on one connections.

Family services coordinator get face to face time with those we are directly involved with. I get to work with the applicant family right from the start, discussing the process of Habitat for Humanity Home Ownership, the applications process, and the post application. This is not always happy connections as I am the one that also has to tell those families that their application does not qualify at this time. But we keep the door open by explaining that they are welcome to apply again when their circumstances change.

It is common misconception that Habitat for Humanity provides homes for the homeless but that’s not really the case, is it?
To be approved for a Habitat for Humanity home, the applicant family must meet certain criteria and that criteria includes having a steady income and a debt load that is manageable.

Tell me more about the criteria.

Habitat for Humanity is not just giving homes away for free. And while we do want to help those in unfavourable living conditions, the families must have a reliable source of income and demonstrate their ability to meet the obligations of homeownership plus any other debt obligations.

What do you mean unfavourable living conditions?

What we see most often is overcrowding but also unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. We also help many that are stuck with housing costs that are just too high costing them well beyond what they can realistically afford.

Something else we look at is if there are any barriers for any physically challenged family members.

OK, you have identified a family that looks like the right candidate for a Habitat for Humanity Home, what exactly will make or break an application?

To be approved for a Habitat for Humanity home, the applicant family must show steady income for the last two years and they must have a family income of no less $ 33,600. $33,600 is the minimum income required for a 2-bedroom home and increases based on the size of the home needed to suit the family. Getting into a 3 or 4 bedroom means the minimum goes up to the low to mid 40’s household income.

Many of our applicants have tried for years to qualify for a mortgage through traditional sources but never can come up with an adequate down payment despite trying very hard. But they tell stories of how their saving had to go to things like car repairs or dental bills.

There is no financial down payment for a Habitat for Humanity home. Their down payment is in the form of 500 Volunteer Hours.

What commitments make up the 500 hours?

They are called Partner Families when they have qualified and these families must help in the construction of their own homes. The home owner can help with the construction of other homes than their own and also do administrative tasks and appear at community events. Also, they can add up hours by working at one of our ReStores.

Other than the financial obligations and the 500 hours are there other commitments they must agree to?

Yes, we expect them to be ambassadors of Habitat by helping us spread the word about Habitat, agree to be interviewed as well as being good community neighbours. Applicants also must attend our Homeowner Education workshops to learn about the responsibilities of homeownership.

They are also our best source of new families and many of the new applicants are friends of Habitat homeowners.

I can understand that a no-cash down payment would be very important in helping these families get into their first home. What other financial benefit comes with a Habitat home?

The mortgage is based on the fair market value of the home. The mortgage is no interest and the payments are set at 25% of the household income. I am part of the reevaluation group and that job is to review the income of the homeowners each year and adjust the payment to 25% of the current income level. As the household income goes up, the payments go up and the faster the house is paid off.

What happens if the Habitat house owner want to sell

The only restriction is that Habitat has the first option to repurchase the home. If Habitat does not want to repurchase, then the home owner can sell on the open market.

Even though the application process seems very thorough, there must be a high percentage of defaults.

Not really. The current level of defaults in Canada is less than 1%. Habitat home owners understand how life changing this is and want to pay back.

On the website, it states that since 1976, more than 600,000 houses worldwide – providing shelter to 6.8 million people. Impressive but does that mean the average Habitat house has more than 11 residents?

No, not at all. Remember, Habitat often buys back the house from families that are moving on and those houses are resold to new applicants.

Also on the website, I was reading about the Habitat ReStores. What role do they play in the Habitat for Humanity ~ Heartland Ontario mix? Are they profitable?

We now have 6 stores and these stores cover the complete operating expenses of the Heartland Ontario district. There are quite a few paid employees but we also have an army of volunteers and several are Habitat home owners working ON (rather than off) their 500 hours.

In the short time in this new job, what are you seeing as the challenges?

My job is to find more people that would benefit from a Habitat home and of course qualify. My job is to go out to let people know that we are looking for families. So many people are shocked to hear that we are looking for candidates/applicants.

What can we at Christian Life in London do to help Habitat for Humanity ~ Heartland Ontario.

Getting the word out to the church and ministry leaders will be a big help. Once they have a better understanding of what we are trying to do and the people we are trying to reach, I hope they will call us to talk about someone they may think would be a candidate.

We are also always looking for Family Partners. Family Partners are members of the Family Selection and Support Committee and must go through some education and training first. Once they are deemed an “official” Family Partner they will be involved with applicants by walking them through the whole application process. They will also go through all of the educational modules with them. In some cases where the applicant family does not have a good grasp of English, the Family Partner may be helpful with translation. Usually, the Family Partner becomes a long-term relationship.

There are lots of other ways volunteers can help at Habitat and if they call our office, we can talk about all of those volunteer opportunities.

In your short time at Habitat, what makes a day a good day.

When we put someone into their first home, its life changing for the whole family. We have a family that got a home, eventually paid it off that are now on the family selection committee and are becoming family partners. Full circle.

What better proponent could there be for Habitat for Humanity?

For more information, please click HERE for the Habitat for Humanity ~ Heartland Ontario Web site. Bethany also welcomes your calls and emails at 519 455-6623 ext.