Lonely, little houses

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When you are personally slapped in the face by the housing crisis, it gets you thinking about solutions. I arrived home from my Christmas vacation to a notice from my landlord saying that I needed to move out by June 1 so that she could move a family member into the house that I’m currently renting. I was grateful for the amount of time that she gave me to find somewhere else to live, but still completely knocked off my bearings. As a single mother with a modest income in the midst of a housing crisis, the situation became very real.

In the nine years that I’ve lived in Western Quebec, I’ve been struck by the number of vacant homes that spot the countryside. I notice them along every route that I drive, some in excellent condition, some in varying states of disrepair. Often charming little houses full of character, I can’t help but wonder why they are sitting empty, with so many folks in need of a home. Did the well go bad or run dry? Do they need a new septic system? A new heat source? Are they just too expensive to heat? Did the home fall into disrepair beyond function and the costs become insurmountable? Why are these houses sitting empty?

Fortunately, in my situation, I’ve had one of these vacant homes offered to me. It has been sitting empty for 30 years, used only for storage by the family who owns it. It is going to take a full renovation, new well, and new septic, to bring it back to livability, but with the help of family, we are tackling this great project, which will also give me a path to homeownership.

That’s one little house that’s about to come back to life, but what about the rest of these vacant houses? Preparing to start this major renovation, I’m keenly aware of the huge cost of restoring a home to functionality. So, I propose this: government loans for renovations to vacant homes, with the stipulation that the home will be made available to rent at an affordable rate for a set amount of time. $100,000 or less per home is all it would take to bring many of these residences back to life. That’s less than the cost of building new housing, especially large, brutalist low-income housing units, that no one wants to live in anyhow.

Give a family in need affordable rent and a home in the country. If all these homes were to become available in the Pontiac, it would draw in the new residents that we need to fill jobs and revitalize our economy. The renovation work itself would be an economic boost. Think of the services required: well drillers, excavators, renovation crews, plumbers, electricians, roofers, painters etc. That’s jobs and economic vitality!

But most importantly of all, this is a way to invest in families, and strong communities are made by strong families.