The city's only building supplies thrift store is open again.
It used to be the Habitat For Humanity ReStore and now it is the Helping Hearts and Hands For Homes Salvage Store.
What it will be in the future is still at issue between a local group formerly affiliated with Habitat For Humanity and the national Habitat For Humanity headquarters. The two sides disagree over ownership of the store, its service van, its inventory of contents, and a parcel of undeveloped land on which a home was to be built for low-cost housing.
It is the local group's contention that their local society was independent. Their use of the Habitat For Humanity label did not supersede their autonomy. The national body counters that all groups chartered under their charitable brand of Habitat For Humanity are contractually bound to them, including tangible assets.
"Now that Habitat Prince George has been disaffiliated, it cannot use its assets to further the Habitat purpose," said Kathrin Delutis, the group's national director of affiliate development. "Any further use by Habitat Prince George of its assets, other than to carry out the transfer of those assets to Habitat Canada, would be a breach of trust. For that reason we would caution anyone from donating or purchasing items from the previous ReStore."
Delutis said that the local group did their business using the recognized and trusted Habitat For Humanity brand, so for donors and supporters it is a misuse of their intended purpose: the items inside the disputed store were donated by the public for sale to build the housing funds, and purchases made were likewise to build those charitable coffers.
The local group counters that they still intend to do all the same local work. Nothing has changed but their name and their relationship with a national organization.
"Habitat For Humanity has taken a position: they want the local society to transfer the assets. The local society has refused. They are not a new society, they have changed their name, and if you do a land title search, the property is in the name of the Helping Hearts and Hands For Homes Society," said their legal counsel Jon Duncan.
The local group will relinquish the assets only if ordered by a court, said Duncan. The local group's leader, Jo-Ann Pickering, said "it is business as usual" at the store, which unlocked its doors today. "No no no, it is not owned by Habitat For Humanity. We bought it, many years ago when we were [the Habitat For Humanity affiliate]."
"Upon disaffiliation of Habitat For Humanity Prince George they are required, according to their affiliation agreement with Habitat for Humanity Canada and their charity registration with Canada Revenue Agency, to turn the assets over to Habitat Canada who in turn will distribute them among B.C. affiliates to ensure that they are used for the Habitat purpose," said Delutis. "I can tell you that Habitat for Humanity Canada has not authorized anyone to liquidate the assets on our behalf...We are certainly evaluating our legal options."
Pickering said all transactions at the newly opened store would be going to charitable housing causes as before. Duncan confirmed the group intends to go ahead with the construction of a new home on the parcel of land previously purchased and designated for that but no dates have been chosen yet.