Home ownership is the cornerstone of the Great Australian Dream but, for many, it will remain just that: a dream. However, an organisation called Habitat for Humanity is working to realise the aspirations of hundreds of low-income home-buyers.

The international not-for-profit organisation has helped more than 800,000 families buy their own home, none of whom would have been able to otherwise. While it’s an incredible achievement, the organisation’s model is simple: using a revolving capital fund, it builds new houses which it sells to people in need of accommodation for about 75 per cent of market value.

Importantly, however, to qualify for the program, owners must provide their own “sweat equity”, contributing at least 200 hours’ manual labour towards building their new home. “We give people a hand-up, not a hand-out,” said Habitat for Humanity’s South Australian executive director, Ben Sarre. “We have a requirement that the future owners of the site actually tip in 200 hours of their own time into building it. They’re out on site doing a bit of painting and building their own home.”

In South Australia, quality housing faces some dire problems. The waiting list for public housing is constantly about 20,000 people, but only a fraction of these will ever be offered housing. “Nearly 20 per cent of households in South Australia are in housing stress – that means more than 30 per cent of the household’s income goes to their mortgage or their rental costs,” said Sarre.

“Life can be pretty challenging for a lot of people. Out where we’ve been in Davoren Park [about 30 kilometres north of Adelaide], some of the statistics around single-parent households, around individual income level, incarceration rates and education levels, there are high statistics in all these areas. There are a lot of households that do it really tough out here.”

With the help of Habitat for Humanity, families can invest in their own home. Apart from the symbolic power of home ownership, it provides families with the security of staying in their community. It also offers a platform from which they can develop other areas of their lives. “It gives people the confidence to go on and do other things,” said Sarre. “People have got the motivation to find secure employment to make their repayments.”

The Habitat for Humanity program also helps those who are building their homes to develop new skills. A grant from Coca-Cola enabled the organisation to accommodate volunteers (students and unemployed people). “We have arrangements with schools and job service providers where their clients and students come onto our sites and help build the home,” said Sarre. “We work with a lot of disadvantaged youths, and the funding from Coca-Cola is essential for us to provide them with tools and materials to work with.”

The training program has already helped several participants find work. “Over the past two years, we’ve helped 20 people get into employment, 15 of whom were long-term unemployed,” Sarre said. “They learn a lot of skills, they have to work as part of a team, and they have to work under supervision. For some people, it’s really transformational.”