‘After we pay rent there’s nothing left’: Reflecting on World Habitat Day 2022

Ene Underwood
4 min readSep 30, 2022

If there is one thing that inspires every one of us at Habitat for Humanity GTA, it’s getting to see the change in the lives of the families we partner with. Often it’s because we also see or hear firsthand the living conditions that people faced before. More often than not, families who apply to Habitat for homeownership are living in housing that is overcrowded. Often, they also face challenges from living in poorly-maintained housing that exacerbate health conditions and/or in neighbourhoods in which parents worry about their children’s safety.

We find ourselves holding back our own tears when we witness the tears of joy and the incredible sense of pride and possibility in the faces of new Habitat homeowners on the day they get the keys to their new Habitat home. These families can finally live the life they’ve always dreamed of — in a quality home as part of a wider Habitat community, near parks and schools. With a future they can believe in.

With the rapid increases in interest rates, inflation and rent prices since the start of 2022, we are seeing the families who apply for Habitat homeownership facing more extreme economic pressures than we’ve ever seen before.

We recently held our Women (re)Build fundraising event in Toronto, where we mobilized 350 women to donate and pitch in to help build 20 Habitat homes at 423 Old Weston Rd. Future Habitat homeowners were invited to take part as well, either by grabbing a hammer to help build, or sharing with participants why they’re excited about the future, or both.

Alyssa and her kids Braiden, Ella and Ragen. Alyssa is one of Habitat GTA’s future homeowners.

One of these future homeowners is Alyssa, a single mother raising three kids, one of whom lives with cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair. In meeting Alyssa, you hear the voice of a mom who will do absolutely whatever it takes to ensure all three of her children are able to live their best lives. For Alyssa, this means having a home with enough space for a wheelchair to move around, something that is only possible by working two jobs and cutting corners on everything in order to be able to cover the rent. As any parent will tell you, when you add up the time spent dropping off kids, preparing meals, sitting down for homework and ideally getting an activity or two in, there are not enough hours in the day. Somehow, Alyssa pushes herself to give as much of herself as she can for her kids. But saving for retirement or for your kids’ education aren’t on the horizon when you don’t have much left at the end of the month.

Not surprisingly, Alyssa had all but given up on the idea of ever becoming a homeowner — even though she knew it would provide the stability and financial foundation that she desperately wanted for her family. She is not alone. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid for Global News, over 70% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 54 agree that owning a home in Canada is now only for the rich. This same poll found that 59% of non-owners now believe that owning a home is so out of reach, they are focussing less on earning money and more on enjoying themselves (an outcome that may or may not bode well for the future productivity and economic health of our communities and nation).

October 3, 2022 is World Habitat Day — and this year’s theme is Mind the Gap. Leave No One and Place Behind. It seeks to draw attention to the growing inequalities that have been exacerbated, in part due to the pandemic. Here in the GTA that’s our housing affordability crisis. With inflation and rent in particular now costing an average of $3,266 for a two-bedroom apartment, we know that there are many people like Alyssa out there, giving everything they have just to get by, without hope of getting ahead.

So on this World Habitat Day, we invite you to get involved and be a part of the change. With a municipal election coming up, ask your local candidate about their plan to address the housing affordability crisis. If you have time, consider volunteering at a shelter-based charity (we always have a variety of positions for any time commitments.) And, if you’d like to see what can happen when we rally together and help empower people like Alyssa, we invite you to follow along as we share the impact Habitat GTA partnership has had.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to have a home, a quality place to thrive. If we continue to accept any less, the consequences will be dire for our future generations.



Ene Underwood

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