A Home for the Holidays

Ene Underwood
3 min readDec 16, 2021

If you are like me, at this time of year more than any other, I find myself giving extra meaning to the idea of home. It’s where holiday memories are made. It’s where we gather with friends and family to celebrate. It’s where we’re most comfortable and where we long for when we’ve been away for a while.

It’s easy to get swept up in the holiday fervour and forget that having a stable, comfortable home for our families to gather in is a dream, not a reality for thousands of people — of all ages and backgrounds — throughout our communities.

We’ve all seen the headlines and statistics this past year. Housing affordability in the GTA has reached a staggering point. So, as much as I love statistics, I’d rather devote this year-end blog to the real people whose lives lie behind the numbers and headlines. These are the families our homeownership team here at Habitat for Humanity GTA talk with every day.

When Fiona applied to become a Habitat homeowner a couple of years ago, she told us that she never imagined owning her own home, but she also never imagined she would be living with her two daughters in a shelter. Fiona’s experience with renting was also full of challenges. In her one-bedroom basement apartment, she found herself sleeping in the laundry room and experiencing breathing problems because of mould. She and her daughters had to leave when the owner lost the house. After that, she moved into her mother’s tiny apartment where there wasn’t enough room for the family to sit together on the couch. How “merry” can Christmas be when you are a mother wondering how you are going to find a more functional, stable home for your children?

One couple told us how their two-year-old son had been missing his developmental milestones and their nine-month-old daughter had been sleeping poorly and not gaining weight. Upon learning they were living in a very small, poorly lit, poorly ventilated basement apartment, their pediatrician suggested their living conditions could be harming their children’s development. How do you fully celebrate the holiday season when you are worried that the home you’re gathered in is literally stifling your children’s growth?

A thirteen-year-old girl in Grade 8 wrote to us about how hard it was for her to do her homework in the two-bedroom high-rise apartment she shared with her parents, older brother and younger sister. She explained that she and her younger sister shared one bedroom, her parents shared the other and her brother slept on the couch in the living room. On school nights, she would wait until her younger sister went to bed and then she would do her homework sitting on the kitchen floor with her back to the refrigerator, trying to block out the sound of the television and the noisy neighbours next door. She was worried about how she would succeed in high school with so little ability to concentrate on homework. Can you really enjoy the holiday season when you are a teenager who dreams of becoming an engineer, but are unsure you’ll receive a passing grade for your first semester of grade 9 math?

Between holiday season 2020 and holiday season 2021, Habitat for Humanity GTA has helped all of these families — and many more — secure what so many of us take for granted. This year, these families will celebrate the holidays in well-built homes that have enough bedrooms, enough natural light and enough space to enable their entire family to thrive; equally important, homes they can afford and the pride of knowing that money that used to be directed to rent, is now building equity for their future. Oh — and homes in which they can build holiday memories and holiday traditions. Just like me. Just like so many of us. Just like everyone deserves.

So as you read this, I sincerely hope you find yourself in a safe, secure and comfortable home — it’s something we all deserve. And if that is the case for you, consider making a year-end donation to our work here at Habitat for Humanity GTA or to another charity in your community that is helping provide shelter to families and individuals who lack what we all hold so dear at this special time of year.



Ene Underwood

Ene is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity GTA, which helps working families build strength, stability and self-reliance through affordable homeownership.