Our Story: Part II


Gloria Levi and four of the 11 original executive members made for a fresh start for Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver (HFHGV) in 1997. Gloria quickly found available crown land owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways and set off to Victoria to position HFHGV as a buyer. 

Eventually the Ministry offered HFHGV a choice of land options. An acre lot on Government Street, the largest of the options, was selected. Since the land was to be used only for affordable housing, it was sold for 25 per cent of the 1998 market value and a $175,000 mortgage was set up through BC Housing with HFHGV paying as they could.

Gloria continued to rely on her personal network to build the HFHGV Board. She found ten leaders to run ten committees including: construction, family support, family search, procurement, religious institution liaison, corporate volunteers, individual volunteers, marketing and promotions, union labour relations, and fund development. 

Gloria found the right people for the right roles. Building connections from the organization to influential community members meant grants were coming in from a number of socially responsible companies while educational support, such as schooling on how to approach companies for funding was helping to improve those fundraising efforts.  What started as five-person group transformed into a powerful, connected organization of 150 volunteers.

The accomplishment in the first year was incredible.Gloria and the team raised $350,000; $125,000 came from the Bentall Group of Companies alone. “I was relentless. I ate, breathed, and lived Habitat,” said Gloria.

Having the land in place and a stable organizational structure, the next step was to get the land rezoned for multi-unit development. With a number of unexpected challenges, the rezoning process with the City of Burnaby was finally complete a year and a half later, three times longer than expected. Issues with a high water table, environmental concerns surrounding the Red Tail Hawk, new rain screening regulations, parking space discrepancies and the high cost of property taxes consumed and delayed the Habitat build.

The challenges were overshadowed by the excitement of the build plans. At the time of its inception in 1999, the Government Street build, a 27-townhome community, was the largest single Habitat for Humanity Build ever undertaken in Canada. Other affiliates across Canada had constructed more houses, but this was the first to include such a large number of homes on one site. 

In 2000 construction started on the raw land installing electricity, sewers, gas and water. In spring of 2002, the first four Habitat homes were complete and HFHGV was welcoming the first four Habitat families home.

To be continued...

Miranda Thorne