Owning a Home Makes Families Happier, Healthier

There are lots of reasons why Canada’s homeownership rate is one of the highest in the world, at about 70 per cent. The best reason is because owning a home makes families happier and healthier and in most cases, more financially secure.

The latest research into the benefits of home ownership was recently completed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), which worked with Habitat for Humanity to see how the lives of Habitat families changed after they purchased and moved into their homes.

Habitat for Humanity, formed in Canada in 1985, has 69 affiliates across Canada and has helped more than 2,200 low- and moderate-income families to buy a home. The homes are built with donated materials and volunteer labour. Habitat homeowners must agree to contribute 500 hours of “sweat equity” towards the purchase of the home.

The houses have affordable, interest-free loans with no down payment. Monthly mortgage payments are based on 25 to 30 per cent of the owner’s gross monthly household income.

The 2012 study asked Habitat families from across the country about how their lives have changed since moving into their homes.

Eighty-nine per cent said their family lives have improved since they moved, and 86 per cent said they are happier.

Eighty per cent of the families had school-age children. Most said the children had increased confidence, improved behaviour, higher grades and increased enjoyment of school since moving into the home. The children now participate more in activities outside of school including sports, music and arts and volunteering.

“A major finding from the survey was the improvement in children’s school performance and well-being since moving into their Habitat home,” says the survey. “To the extent that these improvements would not have occurred without moving into a Habitat home, this outcome would represent a major and long-term social benefit,” the survey says.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed said their health was better than it had been in their previous housing. Most of them previously lived in rental housing and many said their former homes were overcrowded and needed repairs.

The homeowners reported fewer illnesses caused by colds, flu, allergies, asthma symptoms and stress. Thirty-one per cent said they visited the doctor less frequently now than before they moved into their new home, and about 25 per cent said they missed fewer days at work because of illness.

“Some homebuyers also commented that their previous housing had issues with mould, humidity and poor heating systems,” says the report by project manager Judith Binder. “Research has shown that these factors contribute to specific health problems. Therefore, some of the health outcomes reported are likely related to the better condition of Habitat homes.”

Fifty-eight per cent of the homeowners said they are better off financially now than before they moved, even though the majority say that their overall housing costs have increased. Only 12.5 per cent said they are “worse off” than previously. Almost half said they had more control over their finances now, and that they no longer had to worry about unpredictable rent increases. More than 62 per cent said they were now building equity in their homes, citing this as a major benefit of homeownership.

Asked to assess the benefits and disadvantages of buying their new home, the homeowners ranked “ability to make it on your own”, a sense of stability and having a home in better condition as the top features. Being able to build equity, having more room and having a backyard were also top vote-getters.

The most-mentioned disadvantage, which was mentioned by 28 per cent of the homebuyers, is the responsibility for maintenance of the home. Nineteen per cent say the responsibility for buying property insurance and paying property taxes is a disadvantage.

“Cramped quarters, unhealthy environments, unsafe neighbourhoods – low-income Canadian families often face challenges in obtaining housing that meets their needs,” says Kevin Marshman, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada. “The families who partner with Habitat are able to remove themselves from these difficult situations, build equity for their futures and begin living healthier, happier and more productive lives.”

The CMHC study’s conclusions coincide with a recent publication by the U.S.-based National Association of Realtors (NAR). Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing, says, “There is evidence from numerous studies that attest to the benefits (of homeownership) accruing to many segments of society. Homeownership boosts the educational performance of children, induces higher participation in civic and volunteering activity, improves health care outcomes, lowers crime rates and lessens welfare dependency.”

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