Standing on a small patch of sand in the middle of a building site, James Rai is wearing a smile as wide as the Fraser River.
“This is going to be my room,” beamed 24-year-old James, while marking his “territory” in the south-west corner of the plot on Ash Street near Blundell Road, where his family’s dream will soon become reality.
In about a year’s time, the Rai family — Sharon and Jeff, along with their children, James, Caleb, 17, and Ruth, 15 — hopes to have moved into their very own 1,180-square-foot, three-bedroom newbuild, complete with wheelchair access.
It’s thanks to the work of charity Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver, with an assist from the B.C. government, which sold at a discount the 25,000-square-foot site in 2013 in order for six, affordable homes to be built.
The transfer allowed six families, including the Rais, to become first-time homeowners through the Habitat for Humanity program, which provides safe and affordable housing.
Families invest 500 hours of labour (called sweat equity) into the building of the home in lieu of a down payment and are financed with affordable, no-interest mortgages.
It’s an opportunity that, three years ago, wouldn’t have entered the imagination of mom-of-three Sharon Rai, who, along with other family members, cares for teenage son Caleb, who has muscular dystrophy.
The fact that the family is currently living in a three-bedroom basement suite and have left 11, mostly bad, landlords behind them in 17 years of living in B.C. makes their next move even sweeter.
“We are all very excited. It’s our home. No landlord and we can stay here for as long as we want with no one being rude to us all the time,” said Sharon, a clerical supervisor with the BC Cancer Agency, while attending Habitat’s construction launch this week.
“Caleb is very shy, but I can see that he is very excited also. This is a hand-up for us, not a hand-out. Nobody has given us this opportunity. I was willing to pay, but we can’t get a mortgage.
“All we need to do is put in 500 hours of voluntary work on the building of the house. My husband wants to do this, he’s ready to start straight away.
“This is a dream come true. I’m pretty emotional right now about it all.”
A couple of years ago, Caleb, said his mom, was in hospital with pneumonia. “We almost lost him and, after that, we started to get more help. He’s doing OK, but there is no cure,” Sharon explained, describing how Caleb has a hospital-type bed in his room; which he shares with big brother James.
That help, said Sharon, was kicked off after an emotional visit to the office of Richmond MLA Linda Reid.
“Caleb had come out of hospital and we had to move again. I was crying in Linda’s office and asking for help; I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
“She directed me to apply to Habitat for Humanity in 2014 and we’ve been waiting for this moment ever since.”
Caleb, who attends Cambie secondary with Ruth, was diagnosed at four-years-old and has been in a wheelchair since he was eight. His condition, said his mom, has got progressively worse since, and a nurse comes in weekdays and overnight to help the family.
The vast majority of the rented accommodations the Rais have stayed in over the years have been bereft of proper wheelchair access, so moving into a custom-built house will be “incredible” said Sharon.
As well as Reid, Dennis Coutts, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver, attended this week’s launch, along with Mayor Malcolm Brodie and members of city council.