For sale: A home to grow in

Homes are expensive.  In October 2010, the average selling price of a Canadian home was $343,747.  Factor in taxes, maintenance and interest on a mortgage, and the cost of owning a home soars well out of reach of many would-be homeowners.

Enter the Affordable Homes Research Group, run out of McGill’s School of Architecture, where graduate students design inexpensive homes for the people who need them most.  The centerpiece of the initiative is the Grow Home – a two-storey townhouse designed by group director Avi Friedman and former professor Witold Rybczynski that costs just $100,000 to build.  With 93 square metres of living space and no interior walls on the top two floors, it’s not exactly a mansion.  But it’s an attractive, well-built home that’s just the right size for a young family.  It’s also a great way for low-income earners to build equity over time – often for less than it would cost to rent.

“People are not making enough money to buy a home,” Friedman says.  “And the people most affected are those whose services we usually need the most: young teachers, young police officers, nurses who just finished school…”

“If they rent, they get nothing.  But if they buy a home, they accumulate capital.  It’s an amazing saving mechanism.”

Since 1988, Affordable Homes has helped build 20,000 low-cost homes – including some 10,000 in and around Montreal.  The other 10,000 are sprinkled among communities all across Canada and some as far afield as Mexico and Europe.

"Economic changes mean that job security is a scarce commodity,” Friedman says.  “The general rule is that if the people spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, they have affordability problems. That's why we must help lower housing costs. This is the least expensive home on the market."

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