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From drug den to family home

The joy in Jon Travis's voice can be heard over the phone. "The fact that we're getting this home is amazing," said the full time cook and father of three. "It doesn't seem real yet.

The joy in Jon Travis’s voice can be heard over the phone.

“The fact that we’re getting this home is amazing,” said the full time cook and father of three. “It doesn’t seem real yet. It seems too good to be true”

It’s all thanks to the work of Habitat for Humanity, which has turned the site of a notorious drug house into affordable housing for families in need.

Jon and his wife applied more than a year ago for one of the units in the aptly named Phoenix Rising triplex. Next week they move in.

With a young family, finding a suitable place to rent was a challenge.

“As soon as people hear ‘kids’ they think that the home’s going to get destroyed, and nobody gets back to you,” said Travis.

The family was outgrowing its current digs.

“To get something like this now is just great,” he said.

Travis and his wife will actually own the unit through an interest-free loan offered by Habitat for Humanity.

“Both myself and my wife work full time and we get by fine,” said Travis. “But actually saving enough money for a down payment on a home was just unobtainable. This really is a miracle.”

The cost of building the home is kept affordable through volunteer labour.

The recipients of the homes must give back to the community by volunteering 500 hours of “sweat equity” to a charitable project.

But there’s more to the Phoenix Rising project than simply helping out some families in need.

It will also rehabilitate a notorious property in the neighbourhood.

“There was an infamous drug house on the site,” said Habitat for Humanity secretary Michael Purves.

When the owner passed away the house was inherited by her daughter. She sold the property to the Yukon Housing Corporation at a discount with the stipulation the land be given to Habitat for Humanity.

“She wanted to build a house there so it would no longer be associated with all the bad press,” said Purves.

Yukon Housing gave the land to the charity, but added a stipulation of its own - the triplex had to be constructed as a “super green” building.

As such, the building was built to exacting standards to conserve energy.

The walls are 18-inches thick and the windows have quadruple panes, which gives the triplex an insulation value far beyond the building code standard.

“Yukon Housing gave extra money to do it like this,” said Stu Mackay, the project manager of Phoenix Rising. “They were trying to use the house as an experiment to see what the real value is, the real payback.”

Mackay is the former dean of professional studies at Yukon College. After retiring, he enrolled in the college’s carpentry course specifically to work on the Habitat for Humanity project.

“I really wanted to get involved with this project and it seemed like an easy way to do it,” said Mackay when asked why he returned to the college as a student.

After completing the carpentry course, Mackay stayed on to work as the project manager.

Yukon College has become Habitat for Humanity’s partner, providing much of the labour for all three of its housing projects in Whitehorse.

For Phoenix Rising, Habitat for Humanity also formed a partnership with the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

Under the supervision of WCC staff and a journeyman carpenter, selected inmates were given the opportunity to work on the building.

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful partnership,” said Mackay. “Some of the real positive things are the fellows who chose to use this and move on to professional trades training.”

The inmates were not allowed to give interviews at the site, but said they enjoyed working on the building.

They also appreciated the free coffee.

With the Phoenix Rising complete, Habitat for Humanity will begin another project in the Ingram Subdivision.

Travis will be there to lend a hand.

“I’m just so elated to be given this opportunity. To be able to give back to Habitat is a great opportunity right there, too.”

The open house is on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at 810 Wheeler.

Contact Josh Kerr at