Jeff Wolsynuk looks like his happiness will burst out at any second.
Tanya Butler looks relieved and content.
The couple is sitting in the kitchen of their home.
That they own.
Three years ago, they did not know that their lives would be so settled and secure; that their family – including Zahara, Leandra, Baelean and Jemma – could make vacation plans and save up for a special purchase and pay for sports and activities.
Stu MacKay joins them. He is received as if he were a favourite uncle.
As the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Yukon, he heads a team of volunteers and equally kind-hearted donors who make these kinds of transformations happen.
This duplex is home to the 15th and 16th Yukon families to be helped since 2004. The 17th and 18th families saw the foundations started in July.
“I think this is a great way to look at long-term solutions for families,” says MacKay as he settles down at the kitchen table.
“Providing for decent, affordable and safe homes for families is probably the most effective way of breaking the cycle of poverty.”
Wolsynuk says “poverty” isn’t what people think. He had a good job and he was working part time, too. But, with four children plus two, Max and Darius, from a previous relationship, and with Butler staying home with the baby, it was tough.
“We sold our trailer and still had trouble coming up with a down payment,” says Wolsynuk. “It turned into a nightmare and I was left with no where,” he says of the financial obstacles in their way.
“I saw the advertisement for Habitat, and I know people who were involved, so I thought that the worst that could happen is they would say no.
“We filled in the application and, boom, we are in a home of our own and it is well within our means.”
He remembers: “I felt ecstatic, no more couch surfing.”
“We had a new baby coming and we had to live separately,” Butler explains.
“My grandpa is very proud of me,” says Wolsynuk. “And that means the world to me.”
MacKay says it wasn’t exactly “boom”: the process takes about six or seven months from application to acceptance.
“There are only three criteria,” he says. “First, you need to be in need of housing because yours is either unsafe, too expensive or not suitable.
“Second, you need to be able to afford the mortgage… even though the mortgage is zero per cent and no down payment.”
“That’s a beautiful thing,” Wolsynuk chimes in.
“Our mortgage payments are pretty reasonable,” MacKay continues. “Most of the time mortgages come in around $800 a month.”
“It’s a beauty,” says Wolsynuk. “It is 32 percent of my gross income.
“And it doesn’t change,” MacKay adds.
“At zero per cent interest,” Wolsynuk says, “there is no major panic to pay it off fast.
“I learned from my grandfather not to wait until retirement to have fun.”
MacKay agrees: “Once families stabilize and understand what the monthly payments are, they can manage the budget to support a lot more kids’ activities and all of those extras that were not available when they are in that loop that I call, ‘the rent-food cycle.’
“And if a family brings in more money later, that’s great, that’s called success.”
The third criteria is for the family to put up 500 hours of sweat equity into the home.
“Some people just can’t come out with a tool belt and start working on the house,” MacKay says. “So, we allow them to volunteer in the community anywhere they feel they can fit in. Food bank, women’s shelter, humane society, anywhere.
“We know that the community has given us a lot with donations to help make these homes affordable, so we want to make sure the families give back to the community.”
“I used to work at The Deli,” says Butler. “So I made lunches for the volunteers. Usually sandwiches and fruit and vegetable trays.”
“And we painted,” said Wolsynuk.
“And your relatives came in and helped,” MacKay reminds them.
Wolsynuk also coached hockey and worked with Scouts Canada.
“I’ve never volunteered this much before, but I am going to continue because he has taught me a lot,” he says, pointing at MacKay. “Without people like him, there is nobody there for people like me.”
This family of six now has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a laundry room.
“All handicap accessible,” says Butler.
“Yeah,” says Wolsynuk. “We can’t foresee the future … accidents happen.
“And with solar panels, this place costs less for electricity than it did in our trailer.”
After selling excess electricity back to the grid, they are expecting a rebate cheque at the end of the year.
“All of these houses are built to very high standards,” says MacKay. “The energy rating is 88, so, for practical purposes, their energy bill will be less than $200 a month.
“It is important that people can afford to buy the home, but it is also important that they can live in the home, too.”
The other benefit is that the house is located in Whistle Bend.
“When I heard it was in Whistle Bend, I was so excited,” says Butler.
“This place is turning into something else,” says Wolsynuk. “We have the trails and the pond… and there is a park being put in just over there.”
Butler adds: “I always had to worry about the kids on their bikes, but, here, they have the paved trails so they are just gone and they go in circles around the pond.”
“We have the world on this lot,” says Wolsynuk, summing up his feelings. “I’m happy.”