by Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
originally published in The Morrisburg Leader
When Zach Rumohr and Taylor Boisvert were told they were the successful applicants for the latest Habitat for Humanity build this spring, they could not believe they had been chosen. Seven months later, the family of six is without the home they helped build, and wish they had not been chosen. In early October the family was told their application with the Habitat for Humanity Cornwall and Counties organization had been terminated.
“I had a call scheduled to arrange my last 27 hours of volunteering, and instead a guy was telling me that we’re out of the program,” Rumohr told The Leader. “We were blind-sided.”
The project build, the latest for the organization, broke ground in late April in Winchester Springs on land donated by the Municipality of South Dundas. The property was the site of a former one room school house turned recreation hall that had been demolished a few years earlier. The well and septic system were kept for future use which made the site an attractive location for the Habitat for Humanity build. It was also Rumohr’s main concern with the build.
“I asked if the well and septic were tested and was told that was my responsibility once we owned the property,” he explained. “I kept asking about this because we are buying the house and that’s part of the process.”
The dispute between the family and the organization had been brewing for a few months, as Rumohr said he had been asking questions about the project and not getting answers. In one instance, it took three weeks to find out why a closet size had been changed. Another involved the selection of the propane supplier and why the family’s choice for a vendor was disregarded.
“We only got two choices in the house build, the colour of the walls and what propane company we wanted to deal with. So I asked questions and that was not what you’re suppose to do,” he explained. “I called them out because I wanted to know. [Habitat] claimed I was harassing them and being uncooperative.”
The organization confirmed that the local Habitat for Humanity board voted to terminate the family’s application on October 6.
Leigh Taggart, executive director of the Habitat chapter based in Cornwall, said the organization is committed to providing safe and affordable housing for low income families, and that they work closely with applicant families throughout the home ownership process.
“Applicants to the program are clear about the obligations of the partnership and work together with us to be successful,” she said. “Unfortunately, because of ongoing concerns that could not be resolved, Habitat Cornwall and the Counties made the decision to terminate the application of the family to the home-ownership program. It has been a difficult decision, but one we are confident is correct.”
Taggart said it is rare that an application is terminated in the middle of a build, and that she has not seen it happen in her 11 years with the organization.
Addressing the water and septic concerns, Taggart explained that all Habitat homes must meet all relevant building codes before a family can move in.
“The septic and well were inspected when the donation was made, and the well water quality will be tested now that the water is running in the house,” she said. “Water quality testing is a normal test that anyone on a well would have to do throughout the year.”
When asked if any mediation or discussion to resolve the issues between the family and the Habitat chapter occurred, Taggart said she could not comment “to protect the privacy of the applicants.”
“There was no attempt to work this out. I asked,” Rumohr said. “When I was told we’re out, they said to send any questions by email. That’s it.”
Habitat is currently searching for a new family to take over the house, which is set to be completed at the end of November. The organization is undergoing a targeted campaign with community agencies, banks, churches, schools, and other groups to recruit a family. A tour for donors took place on November 17.
Two specific donations were found by the family during their involvement in the build. Taggart said one donor asked for their donation back, the other said to apply the donation to the current project.
“We are honouring their wishes in both circumstances,” she said.
Habitat for Humanity home ownership projects provide a newly-constructed home with the organization holding a 30-year no interest mortgage for the owners. As a down-payment, the recipient family needs to provide 500 hours of “Sweat Equity” through volunteering. The 473 hours already contributed by the former recipient family will not be compensated for by Habitat. The new family that will purchase the Winchester Springs home will have to put in their own 500 hour volunteer down-payment.
Taggart did not give a specific time-line on when the new family for the home will be selected.
The Rumohr-Boisvert family, Zach, Taylor, and their four kids (Marissa, Zoe, Octavia, and Lincoln), remain in transitional housing and are working with the House of Lazarus on a new solution to their housing issues.
“The House of Lazarus has been really helpful through this,” Rumohr said. “This is a set back, but without their help we would be in a real mess.”
Rumohr said that the family is working with the HOL’s mentoring services, along with friends and family, to get back on the path to home ownership in a year or two. Still, they are disappointed and upset with how this has turned out.
“My oldest (Marissa, 6) took it really hard when I told her,” he said. “I promised her three years ago we’d get a house of our own. I reminded her about it, and explained what happened. She’s pretty smart. I told her we have a different plan but we’ll still have a house of our own. It will just take a bit longer.”
Nearly two months after their purchase of Habitat home was terminated, the family is trying to take a positive outlook.
“We’re just glad now that we’re not part of it now,” Rumohr said.
The Winchester Springs project is the 17th Habitat-build located in Cornwall and SDG Counties and the third located in South Dundas. The local Habitat for Humanity chapter was founded in 1998.