No down payment? No problem!

Quietly, behind the scenes, developer Rob Anderson has built more than $16 million worth of new homes during the past two-and-a-half years. Developer Paul Teeuwen has built more than $6 million.

And those homes went to middle-class working people who - for one reason or another - couldn't come up with the down payment.

That cash payment - from $17,000 up to $45,000 - came from the non-profit Project Build Society which went public about its innovative and unique-in-Canada program on Tuesday.

The seed was planted in 2008 when the Central Okanagan Foundation "built a home to build a community," explained then-executive director Leanne Hammond.

Local philanthropist Derek Trethewey donated a building lot and seed capital, others donated or sponsored construction and the COF received a major donation from its sale.

The core group of volunteers and donors involved in this original collaboration decided to switch directions from fundraising to helping local families buy a home. Project Build Society was born and Hammond took over as executive director.

Since then, the society has provided non-repayable grants, which serve as down payments, for more than 50 families - "quietly, very quietly," said Hammond. "We didn't have a budget for marketing," she explained with a laugh.

"Housing is a key indicator of stability for families. If they're paying between $1,000 and $1,500 a month in rent, they're likely in the ballpark to qualify for a mortgage," said Hammond. In the Elkridge development on the Westside, two- and three-bedroom houses range from $310,000 to $350,000 while homes in Sageglenn in Lake Country start at $400,000-plus.

All of those involved in the process - from developers and contractors to trades people, mortgage brokers and real estate sales people - are expected to contribute 10 per cent of the value of their work.

After a qualified appraisal, the developer, for example, donates 10 per cent of the value of the home, which is used for the down payment.

"We've received cheques for up to $45,000," said Hammond.

Trades people can accept 10 per cent less from the developer/contractor or write a cheque. The society insists on a real estate agent who represents the interests of the buyer. Purchasers are responsible for closing costs, such as legal fees and property transfer taxes (if applicable).

Built-Rite Homes owner Rob Anderson of Kelowna constructed the first home for COF, then jumped on real estate salesman Gino Dal Ponte's idea for Project Build. Anderson just broke ground on his 40th home in the Sageglenn development in Lake Country, all through Project Build. Only five packages are left, but he is already looking for the next opportunity. His buyers generally range from 25 to 35 years of age, many starting their families.

"It's a very good way of getting people into the housing market. It's also a win-win situation for us as well in a not-very-good economic time. Yes, everybody is giving up a little bit, but they are able to keep their companies going quite well during some lean times. It's been a great success story for everybody," he said.

His project manager Sean Roberts noted the company had 27 starts in 2009-10, its best year ever. "It was just unbelievable. It's really been a blessing for myself, for all the guys we work with and then, of course, the homeowners. It's something else when you are turning the house over and the recipients are crying because they are so happy about this opportunity. They would probably never be able to get into a house otherwise."

During the past two years, Teeuwen, owner of Elkridge Enterprises, has completed 19 houses in the Elkridge development for Project Build.

"In this time of recession, we certainly did think that Project Build would help us sell houses. The 19 families are all very excited. Once you teach them that owning a home is almost the same as renting, it gives you so much better feeling and you build up equity, which gives you better credit rating in the future," he said.

For more information about Project Build, go online to projectbuild.ca.

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