By Steve Pawlett
Special to Ontario Construction News
Habit for Humanity’s “Tiny Home Build Pilot Program” is a unique educational program providing hands-on building experience for youth while impacting families and communities with critical housing needs.
Students from Halton and Peel Region schools are building 230 sq. ft. tiny homes that will be relocated to First Nations partners upon completion.
Habitat for Humanity has a longstanding relationship with several schools in the community, taking students to its traditional single-family housing build sites. Participating students must be at least 16 years old to volunteer on build sites, for safety issues.
“It was during one of our builds that one of the construction managers had a conversation with one of the teachers who suggested a building program they could bring to the students that may not be able to participate. That’s how the Tiny Home Project came about,” explains Eden Grodzinski, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin.
“Habitat started the program last year to see if it could be completed over a semester.
“We are working with Indigenous communities with whom we have a longstanding relationship. We want this to be done in partnership, so our first community was the Chippewa of Nawash Grey-Bruce. We have been working with them for years building single-family homes, and we approached them to see if there was interest in building tiny homes,” Grodzinski explained. “Last year during the process, we were having monthly meetings with them and created a memorandum of understanding with them, and they came to visit the students and toured throughout the semester and spoke with them.”
In 2021 Habitat completed a few homes and delivered them to the community, and Habitat Grey-Bruce is now working to have them site serviced.
Habitat brings the tiny homes to a specific completion point, and the community chooses the people to live in them.
“The students involved are enjoying the program, and our indigenous partners are full participants as well,” said Peter Oliveira, tiny home project manager, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin. “We have been fortunate with this program that corporate donors have stepped up. This year we are doing six homes for which we have secured corporate sponsorship.”
“There are a few different layers for our sponsors. We have home title sponsors providing funds in excess of $50,000 to $100,000, and then we have smaller sponsors providing products for us and discounts we receive from contractors,” adds Oliveira.
The training for the students happens at the school level.
“We partner with three different school boards, and we are at nine high schools this year,” says Oliveira.
Of the nine schools, three are building cabinetry. They don’t have a complete unit at the high school, but they have teachers that have industry experience constructing cabinets. Habitat supplies the materials and hardware to them, and the students get a practical project.
At each participating high school, there is at least one representative from the technical department who is the key point of contact for the construction training. As part of their classroom work on their daily schedule, students typically work on the tiny home for two class periods per day.
“Our goal is for students starting in September, to assist and see the home built from the foundation and framing to the finished roof framing and then get into components such as the building envelope and the interior plumbing and wiring work,” adds Oliveira.
For the most part, the students are the primary workers on the home. “We want them to get that instructional experience, so they get an opportunity to learn about the different skilled trades that are available to them in a standard residential project,” adds Grodzinski.
Along the way, licensed sub-trades complete the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and roofing. “We make sure all licensed sub-trades come in to do that work. Technically they are not there for instruction purposes, but we do have the students get some exposure to them so that they can ask questions about their trade specifically,” says Oliveira.
When the sub-trades are in the schools, the teachers work with the students on fake walls so they can learn how to wire and plumb the project.
“Tiny homes are not zoned in our community, so that was one of the reasons we looked to an indigenous community to see if this would interest them,” adds Grodzinski. “Last year, we worked with one indigenous community, and this year we are working with two different First Nations communities, The Chippewas of Kettle Stony Point and The Saugeen First Nations. After working with the catholic and public-school boards in Halton, this year, we expanded to the Peel district.
Habitat is now receiving interest from other schools. “Our Habitat only serves the region of five school boards, so we have not yet determined the program’s scalability. I am talking to my colleagues across Canada. I represent one of 47 Habitats in Canada,” explains Grodzinski. “We are talking about the scalability across Canada, and we hope it becomes an integral part of our program in the coming years.”
“We are thrilled with the engagement of the students and the trades, the awareness about affordable housing, and the deep connection to truth and reconciliation. They are learning, not only about the housing crisis across Canada but particularly, how it is affecting our Indigenous neighbours,” she adds.
The chiefs and the Indigenous communities are engaged with students, coming out to the schools. “It’s been a wonderful experience we weren’t expecting,” says Grodzinski.
Many female students are involved in this program. “There is one class at Notre Dame in Burlington that will have 16 female students and only four male students in the program,” adds Oliveira.
This program inspires the students to see that going into construction can be a passion and that you can help people in the community. By giving them the ability to have that whole experience, they can decide where they are going to land and know that what they are going to do is going to make a difference whether they go non-profit or for-profit,” adds Oliveira.