When Cassandra Houston signed up for a program to host an international student for one full school year, she had no idea that student would be helping to build her own brand-new house.
Habitat for Humanity has made that dream of being a homeowner come true for Houston and her family. Tomorrow, they will be handed the keys to their new four bedroom, two bathroom home at 1936 Juniper St.
"It's pretty surreal -- this is a brand spanking new home with no stories in it," said Houston. "All the stories are the ones we will get to create. It's really quite amazing. Whenever we need anything done we call and have people who show up to help out. When the sod was laid we had 20 people to help."
Exchange student Daniel Poser, 16, has been busy applying some of the final brush strokes to the Houston's house since he arrived from Berlin, Germany in August. He attends Grade 11 classes at Prince George secondary school with Cassandra's 16-year-old son Anthony.
"I knew they were getting a new house and I thought when I came here all the stuff would be done, but they said if I wanted to live here I have to help," laughed Poser. "Cassandra said it's my house too, so I got to pick my own paint colours in my room, which was so awesome. We picked the lights, the blinds, and the floors. It was pretty cool."
The kitchen appliances, including a built-in microwave oven, and a washer/dryer were all donated. The basement level has been completely finished, virtually doubling the living space of the 1,100 square-foot home.
"It's a great opportunity for us, it's a fresh start," said Anthony. "All the memories of this house are from us. We saw it built from the ground up."
Habitat for Humanity now operates worldwide and has built more than 500,000 homes for people in financial need. The Christian organization was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller of Alabama. Selection of partner families is based on income levels, the willingness of the family to contribute hundreds of hours of volunteer labour to build their house, and the ability of the homeowner to repay the loan.
Houston, who works full-time as a private home care aide, was required to come up with a down payment and will begin paying off a zero-interest mortgage starting in November. Her mortgage costs are substantially reduced because the building materials and labour have mostly been donated.
The Prince George Habitat for Humanity office paid for the building lot and hired Art Newcombe as construction supervisor. The College of New Caledonia's building construction and plumbing programs provided much of the labour to build the house. Dozens of local businesses contributed their time and materials to the project. The organization will use Houston's monthly payments to finance other Habitat building projects.
The Houston home is the seventh Habitat house built in Prince George.
"This is lucky number seven," said Cassandra, whose 18-year-old daughter Jessica will also be living in the home. "We found out we'd been picked in January, on Friday the 13th. We applied in 2010 and were shortlisted but didn't get chosen so we applied again.
"A lot of people think we just received the house and didn't have to work or anything but we have worked really hard on a lot of it, and since Daniel's been here he's done his part too."