Homeownership dream becomes reality for Prince Albert family

The Zerai family prepares to begin the ceremonial groundbreaking at the site of what will be their new home in Prince Albert (Jason Kerr/Daily Herald).

Yohannes Zerai didn’t believe it when friends told him he could own a house, but as of Tuesday, he’s on the road to doing just that.

The Zerai family arrived in Prince Albert four years ago from Eritrea and at the time, they had little hope of owning a home in the community. However, that’s going to change in the coming months.

On Tuesday, friends and community members, including members of Calvary United Church who sponsored the Zarai’s move to Prince Albert, were on hand for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the families new home on 24th Street. The house will be fully constructed by next spring.

“Someone from Calvary United Church, they told me (I could own a house),” Zerai remembered. “I said, ‘How? How can I own a house because (it’s) $200,000, $300,000, $400,000 for one house.’”

It’s just a patch of grass now, but Zerai and his wife are already excited at the prospect. The couple came to Canada with six kids, and had one more in the years since. They can’t wait to have everyone under the same roof.

“I am very happy, yes, very happy,” Zerai said.

“The government of Canada and the people of Canada, they did a lot for my family,” he added.

Homeownership isn’t a free gift for Zerai, although given that he did celebrate his birthday on Tuesday, it almost seems like it. Instead of a down payment, he’ll contribute by working a minimum of 500 hours, something Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.” The family also has to pay off the mortgage, but unlike most mortgages, this one comes with a zero per cent interest rate.

“(It’s a) double celebration,” Zerai chuckled. “First my birthday, and then we’re digging for (a new home). We’re excited…. I can’t explain how happy I am.”

Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave and Mayor Greg Dionne were also on hand to help with the groundbreaking, as were Lakeland Co-op employees who held a fundraising barbeque on site during the lunch hour.

Dionne said projects like this one not only help by providing needy families with affordable housing, they also use up empty infill lots scattered throughout the city.

“Look how long this lot’s been empty,” he explained. “Let’s put something on it and start generating taxes and make it useful then. I think that’s what I’m excited about. Every time we come up with a lot that we can give them a deal on, Habitat just snaps it up and builds another home. It’s a great partnership for us in the city.”

The Saskatchewan Housing Corporation provided $50,000 in funding for the 1,175 square-foot bungalow. The SHC receives support from both the provincial and federal governments through the 2014-19 Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement.