On March 17, 2013 (St. Patrick’s Day), we attended a very special event hosted by Options for Homes at their condo development 60 and 61 Heintzman (near Keele and Dundas).
Upon entering the lobby, we were greeted by a group of smiling leprechauns, one of them being Mike Labbé, the President and CEO of Options for Homes. Since we got there early, we had a chance to sit down with Labbé to learn what the event was all about.
“The way our developments work is that we actually work on behalf of the purchasers in order to help them build their own homes. So when there’s money left over at the end, it belongs to the community. Half of it is given to the community at large, and the other half is available for rebates. We could just hand out rebate cheques, but that’s not nearly as fun. So for those who want to participate, we’ve organized a quest through the buildings.”
And with perfect timing, owners Daniel and Tana, showed up to participate in this mystery quest! That’s what made the event so exciting; apparently, the owners only knew that they were picking up rebates for the $100 that they spent to create a book that described all the units’ layouts, but when they opened their envelopes at the end of the quest, much more was awaiting them. According to Labbé, the cheques averaged about $1,000.
Labbé explained the quest to Daniel and Tana (while handing them a gold coin): “You’ll be following a series of rainbows on the walls. You’ll head up to the fourth floor library, and then out to the other building’s library. You’ll pass checkpoints along the way where you collect coins. Once you reach five coins, you’re eligible to meet the leprechaun in the meeting room to collect more loot.”
Obviously, we had to go on the quest with Daniel and Tana - we’re not ones to pass up an adventure, especially when it involves leprechauns and money. Along the way, we asked Daniel and Tana about their experience living at 60 and 61 Heintzman. They’ve been living there for almost two years.
Daniel said, “We love it. Great neighbourhood, great environment, good people - it’s beautiful.”
Tana said, “We were renting before and without the Options for Homes second loan opportunities, we would not have been able to buy at the time. So, it’s really nice to be a first time homeowner. It’s a pretty strong and wonderful community here of people advocating for the building and taking care of it. It’s a very nice environment to be in.”
Once we reached the “leprechauns’ lair,” we stuck around to see how many people followed through with the quest. It wasn’t long before a line was wrapping around the lobby, with everyone holding their keys to entry: the gold coins (they were actually chocolate, but that’s arguably better).
Over 200 people participated in the quest. The high participation level actually blew us away. Think of any event your condo has thrown - did this many people show up? We doubt it. Granted, most condo events don’t hand out cheques, but these homeowners could have simply opted to have their money mailed to them. That willingness to get involved with other community members is astounding.
Another thing that surprised us was the types of homeowners. We saw young couples, single women, single men, retirees, and families - and not just ones with a kid or two - we saw big families; we’re talking three or four kids! You never see that in condo environments. This is one of the truest communities we have ever seen.
After chatting with some happy homeowners, we headed back to the lobby of 61 Heintzman to catch up with Labbé. We expressed to him how welcomed we felt by all the friendly residents.
Labbé explained, “All the residents were invited to board meetings, and they started coming a year before building. So for three years, about 50% of the residents were coming out every six weeks to a meeting. We eventually had to move to a church because there were about 350 people coming. At the end of the meetings, they’d walk home together, they’d chat, take rides together - now you’ve seen what can come of that.”
We also commented on the age range of the homeowners. Labbé continued, saying that “The income to own here is about $20,000 less than anywhere else. 75% of the people who buy here have never owned before. Our oldest couple was 70 and 71 years old, first time owners. We’ve even had an 80 year old first time owner. They like the idea of community. It makes a big difference in their lives.”
“Our youngest, that I know of, was a 19 year old foster child, whose foster parents helped with the down payment. She had two jobs while going to school. There was another kid who came in, he had virtually no down payment. He made a promise to put so much money aside every month. He brought is mother in, and our staff gave her heck for not being positive enough! She was doubting whether he was going to make it or not - our staffer said, ‘you don’t have the right to do that to your son, he wants to do this, you should support him.’”
Right after he said that, we swear, a woman and her mother approached Labbé, and the woman said, “Mom, this is Mike Labbé, he’s the reason I can afford to own my home.” That actually happened. That interaction was even more touching than watching everyone open their rebate cheques. It was the perfect way to end our interview.
Options for Homes’ building and planning process is outstanding; it brings all the residents together, and creates a greater sense of community than we have ever experienced anywhere else.
Options for Homes has four projects in the works right now; one in Scarborough, two downtown, and one at Danforth and Dawes. If you wish to learn more about Options for Homes, than visit their website here.
Thank you to Mike Labbé and the great team at Options for Homes for having us!